Mar 7, 2024 - News

San Diego delegates highlight local issues via State of the Union guests

The outside of the Monarch School building in San Diego.

The Monarch School serves students experiencing homelessness in San Diego. Photo: Andrew Keatts/Axios

A director at a local school for kids experiencing homelessness and a U.S. Navy veteran impacted by the Tijuana River sewage crisis are two of the guests joining San Diego's U.S. Representatives in Congress at President Biden's State of the Union address Thursday.

Why it matters: Their attendance at the nationally televised event highlights San Diego's most pressing issues and the human impact of federal government policies.

Zoom in: Erika Malone, guest of Rep. Sara Jacobs (D), directs art programming at The Monarch School in Barrio Logan, where trauma-informed staff serve about 300 students who are unhoused each day.

  • "[Compared to traditional schools,] what we can do to partner with families and impact the cycle of poverty is so much greater," Malone told Axios.
  • The school offers robust arts and athletics programs, along with onsite physical and mental health care and temporary and long-term housing support for families. It also operates a clothing store, organizes and pays for college visits and provides students with reliable technology.
  • There's a waiting list for classes at Monarch, and enrollment fluctuates and opens up as families transition throughout the school year. Some students stay for several years, while others return to their neighborhood school after a few months.

Going deeper: In 2022, Monarch opened the Chrysalis — a theater, dance studio, visual-arts classroom and storefront gallery to engage the larger community.

  • The mental health team is also raising money to build a community mental health clinic that will serve more families in the neighborhood.
  • Meanwhile, Jacobs is pushing to extend federal pandemic aid that's set to expire this fall to allow all schools to spend money on hotel stays for students experiencing homelessness. She said she's also looking to create a federal office of child and family homelessness.

The big picture: More than 16,650 homeless students were enrolled in San Diego County schools in the 2022-23 school year, according to the state, and homelessness remains a top resident concern for San Diegans.

  • Monarch is the only comprehensive K-12 school in the nation specifically meant to serve unhoused students, but Malone said they're scaling the work by training and consulting other schools that serve large homeless populations.

U.S. Navy SEAL Capt. (Ret.) Dan'l Steward, guest of Democratic congressman Scott Peters, trained in San Diego's sewage-contaminated waters and is now an activist focused on cross-border water pollution that threatens the health of local residents and military members.

Other guests announced as of Thursday invited by San Diego delegates are:

What's next: Watch Biden's speech at wh.gov/sotu. It's scheduled to start at 6pm PT.

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