Sunday, December 28, 2014

Homeless Resources for School Board Members

The recent commencement of a homeless grant program by LEAF, the local school district foundation  is a reminder to all of us that St. Cloud has not been immune to the significant rise in homeless across the country.   When the McKinney-Vento Act was reauthorized in 2001, national statistics showed that over one million children and youth were likely to experience homelessness in a given year and that extreme poverty, coupled with high mobility and loss of housing, placed these children at great risk for educational challenges.  

Here in St. Cloud efforts have begun to create a "continuum of care" that brings the community efforts to address homelessness.   See for example the July 2014 article in the St. Cloud Times.  According to the Times, The Wilder Foundation estimated that the number of homeless people in Central Minnesota, according is 605.  School aged children frequently experience homelessness.  Approximately  325 children in 2013 experienced homelessness, and the Salvation Army alone housed 195 children.

Each of us has our own window on what we think causes homelessness and what we think should be done to address homelessness.   Although I've been involved professionally with homelessness issues for decades, as an  attorney for a housing authority, as an advocate for low income tenants and welfare recipients, as a tenants rights advocate,   I've learned that its important to approach the issue with a high degree of humility.  I've used the recent attention to this problem as a stimulus to read the resource material now available on this topic and re-educate myself on the nature of the problem and the tools now available to school districts better to serve students.   I've said, "hey Jerry, before you form final opinions, take another look at the training material.    None of us has a monopoly on wisdom."  There are some really dedicated caring people of all political and religious stripes:  social workers, homeless advocates, public housing authorities, legal services professionals, non-profits such as Salvation Army, Anna Marie's, United Way, Catholic Charities, the Childrens Law Center, Childrens Defense Fund, to name a few.

One of the things that it is extremely important to remember is that families lose their homes for a variety of reasons, and that they face emergent homelessness for a panoply of reasons.   There is no one face of homelessness and no one approach that works for all families.  

For school districts, the responsibilities are set out first and foremost by the McKinney-Vento act, named after two Congressmen who worked tirelessly to make housing and serving the homeless a national priority.    The McKinney-Vento Act requires each state and each school district to develop policies and strategies to address the educational needs of homeless students and their families.   It is for this reason that our school district has adopted a template policy recommended by the Minnesota School Boards Association, designated as District 742 Policy 557  Homeless Students:  
The Board recognizes that maintaining school of origin enrollment and a regular, mainstream environment has a positive impact on the academic achievement of students in homeless situations. The primary goals of the District 742 Homeless Education Program are to facilitate enrollment, attendance, and academic success for students who are homeless. All services provided to homeless students will be in accordance with the provisions of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
The McKinney-Vento Act contains a number of requirements for school districts such as ours.  It requires us to have a homeless liaison, who can be a part-time or full time employee, to assure that the rest of us in public education--teachers, principals, support staff, boards of education and superintendents -- meet the law's requirements.   Among the  basic requirements of the statute and its implementing policies include (a) that students who are homeless should not be forced to change schools as a result of losing their home, (b) that students receive the full panoply of educational services without interruption, including transportation, educational opportunities, meals, and other services (c) and that homeless families not be stigmitized as a result of their temporary or permanent homelessness.   This latter provisions discourages districts from identifying students publicly as homeless; discourages calling them "homeless" students even, and requires that their privacy be scrupulously observed.  

There are a number of other programs that are available to meet the needs of homeless students.  Special education must serve homeless students with disabilities to the same extent and without regard to their housing crisis.   Title I has a variety of funding sources for students, but Title I expects that other specific programs will be exhausted before invading Title I funds.   There are wrap around services for foster children designed to assure that students who are experiencing homelessness or repeated changes in residence should be afforded continuous quality public education.

Here are some resources that I found really helpful in re-educating myself on the educational aspects of homelessness.  You can click on the links in the text to get more information.

Helping Homeless Students  Principals have unique opportunities and a legal responsibility to assist homeless students and protect their rights in school.  National Association of School Principals, 2004  Addressing the needs of homeless youth is required by law through the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, currently known as the McKinney-Vento Act. This federal law entitles homeless children to a free and appropriate education and states that schools must eliminate barriers to enrollment, attendance, and success in school for homeless students. Further, the act obligates schools to appoint a liaison to work with homeless students and their families and serve as a resource for educators. In December 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) reauthorized the McKinney-Vento Act. This 2001 re-authorization required school districts to keep homeless students in their "schools of origin" and, to the extent possible, provide transportation to and from school. Homeless students are also immediately eligible for free meals and access to educational services that are comparable to any student in the district.


National Center for Homeless Education  NCHE operates the U.S. Department of Education's technical assistance and information center for the federal Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Program.

School Homeless Liasons  (NCHE Publication) Local homeless education liaisons are Local Educational Agency (LEA) staff responsible for ensuring the identification, school enrollment, attendance, and opportunities for academic success of students in homeless situations. Some of these activities may be performed by the local liaison himself or herself, while others are accomplished by coordinating the efforts of other staff

NCHE Homeless Liason Toolkit  Lots of specific information the activities of school homeless liasons.

Collaboration of Schools and Social Services Agencies  In the past two decades, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of homeless students enrolled in US schools. Overwhelmed school personnel lack adequate resources and skills to success fully address the myriad of challenges – especially those outside the scope of academics – faced by homeless child ren. Issues like hunger, inadequate housing, poor health care, emotional difficulties, domestic violence, and family substance abuse among others have prompted educators to look increasingly toward collaborations with social service agencies as a possible solution. ....

Unfortunately, the needs of homeless children are so pressing that those who work in this arena often do not have the time or energy to establish collaborations. It is simpler to respond with resources that are convenient although inadequate than spend the time and effort required to work with another bureaucracy (Stronge & Reed-Victor, 2000). Staff memb ers from schools, school districts, and community agencies are hesitant to collaborate with those outside their own walls due to “administrative burdens and turf question s” (Verstegen, 1996, p. 285). They have different foci that have caused past difficulty in working relationships and few mechanisms exist to support successful collaboration between the two systems (Altshuler, 2003).

Kids Connection, a Program of St. Louis Park Perspectives.  Model program which seeks a coordinated approach centered on an experienced provider of services.  "Our goal is to unlock the potential for homeless and at-risk children by providing mental health, academic, nutritional and social skills programming and services. Target Population: Homeless and at-risk children, kindergarten through eighth grade, on the free/reduced lunch program, living within the St. Louis Park School District. Program Summary: Kids Connection is a comprehensive “extended-day academic environment” taught by five licensed teachers and over 50 trained volunteers."

McKinney Vento School Requirements:  From the statute itself:

For the State to be eligible under subparagraph (B) to receive funds under this part, the school described in such subparagraph shall—
 (i) provide written notice, at the time any child or youth seeks enrollment in such school, and at least twice annually while the child or youth is enrolled in such school, to the parent or guardian of the child or youth (or, in the case of an unaccompanied youth, the youth) that—
 (I) shall be signed by the parent or guardian (or, in the case of an unaccompanied youth, the youth);
 (II) sets forth the general rights provided under this part;
 (III) specifically states—
 (aa) the choice of schools homeless children and youths are eligible to attend, as provided in subsection (g)(3)(A) of this section;
 (bb) that no homeless child or youth is required to attend a separate school for homeless children or youths;
 (cc) that homeless children and youths shall be provided comparable services described in subsection (g)(4) of this section, including transportation services, educational services, and meals through school meals programs; and
 (dd) that homeless children and youths should not be stigmatized by school personnel; 

Childrens Law Center Resources.   Minnesota's legal advocacy organization for foster children.

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