HOMELESS STUDENTS HAVE THEIR HELPER
“When I first started this job, I would get very overwhelmed because you see so much trauma, so much pain,” she said. “Now I’ll say, ‘God, you’ve got the wheel — in the morning I’ll be here again.’”
By the time she reached school on a recent Monday morning, Norma Mercado had already driven four homeless children to class, one from 30 miles away, having spent the weekend taking a group of homeless students on a college tour and two homeless siblings to buy clothes.
Inside her office, a student was waiting, boiling with rage. Louisa Perez’s ex-best friend was insulting her on Facebook, and Ms. Perez, 17, who until recently had been living in a car, considered the betrayal the latest in a life of violated trust. “That’s why I feel like I can’t be close to nobody — because this always happens!” she sobbed. Friends were urging her to fight. “Oh, my goodness,” Ms. Mercado said. “Sounds like you’re super mad.”
With a voice as placid as the room was disturbed, Ms. Mercado spent a half-hour urging restraint, then sent Ms. Perez to class while making a mental note to keep watch, uncertain if the instinct to fight had flamed out or would reignite. For hundreds of poor families in this rural district outside Austin, Ms. Mercado is a one-woman rescue squad — a source of food, clothes, transportation and counsel — with a gift for keeping homeless students in school. She is also a reminder of the scale
and complexity of student homelessness and an exemplar of a little-known federal program that is suddenly awash in funds to help disadvantaged students succeed...Read more or listen to the audio story