El Dorado County Office of Education
El Dorado County Child Support Services has selected Homeless Children Matter as the beneficiary of fundraising efforts for the next annual CSDA training conference in May 2018.
For me, the song “Baby it’s Cold Outside” takes on a whole new meaning this time of year. In this season of giving, I am so grateful for the poignant opportunity to author this article highlighting three different perspectives on the complexities of homelessness for children. I am equally grateful for McKinney-Vento programs supporting children whose life path includes homelessness. A lack of housing creates a unique set of barriers for children to access and succeed in education. In the following three perspectives, I hope to give you a glimpse into the experience of children at an elementary level, a middle school level, and a high school level. I have found the complexities of homelessness to be limitless.
Case study #1 Homeless before reaching double digits—from a youth shelter provider perspective:
In my community is a family who has suffered from homelessness for many years, yet it has taken on a number of expressions. From homeless camps and tents, shelters, to couch surfing with friends and family, to getting by in a local motel, homelessness is chaotic.
This family consists of a mother, father, and an elementary age child. The child has spent their existence living under the cloud of homelessness and poverty. The parents seem accustomed to having little to no employment and also have a long history of drug abuse. On top of this, domestic violence has followed them wherever they go.
This young child has been given the great task of navigating the stress and trauma that follows situations like this one. While our schools provide stability, structure, and learning for children in situations similar to this one, getting the child to school is the first goal.
As a community it is important that we make a collective effort to support and resource these families and children with what they need to help combat the mountain of adversity that things like homelessness, violence, chronic stress, and food insecurity have created for them. This child, proven to be resilient, will need a number of supportive services to come out on the other side of their teenage years on top, emotionally and in other ways.
Case Study #2 Navigating middle school and homelessness—from a McKinney-Vento Liaison perspective:
Family (Dad and Mom and two middle school girls) lost their home when they got behind on payments (foreclosure) last school year. They did retain their vehicle and have lived in it and in four different motels both in and out of our school boundaries for the last nine months. Dad is disabled and cannot work; he receives limited funds. Mom works part-time so they do not qualify for many housing assistance programs because they pay their own motel bill (do not meet the HUD, Department of Housing and Urban Development, definition of homeless). Under the McKinney-Vento program, the family has received bus transportation, food, clothing, after school programs, have been connected with community services, and I have worked closely with the family each time the living location changes. As of September this year, the car was repossessed with all the school supplies (district Chromebook computers for both girls, textbooks, backpacks full of clothes) while they were visiting a relative in LA county. Students were not able to attend school or do any homework—they went “missing” for about a week until they were able to get a new cell phone and I could reach the family. They ended up in a shelter program finally after a Coordinated Entry intake for housing assistance (since they were in their car then lost it) and we then provided bus passes to get to school and helped Dad with the bus route information. Family has struggled to get to school from another city, requiring two bus transfers and a two-hour bus ride before arriving at school at 7:30 a.m. Girls and parents needed to be on the bus by 5:30 a.m. Girls could not stay in the afterschool program ending at 6 p.m. since shelter required them back in by 6 p.m. and the bus ride back would get them there after 8 p.m. jeopardizing their placement. The girls continued to miss many days and be extremely late to school the days they did attend. I discussed needs with Dad and the opportunity to attend an alternative program school working with McKinney-Vento homeless families offering transportation and after school programs to take the burden off of the family. I also connected them to another shelter program with the possibility of a long term housing resource. The housing caseworker is still working to get the Chromebooks and school supplies back from the impound company in LA that took the vehicle. Ongoing issues, but the new school with transportation from any location in our county and afterschool assistance has really helped.
Case Study #3 Support in High School leads to inspirational success—interview with a student:
Briefly describe the circumstances that you ended up without housing?
During my senior year of high school, I was going through a lot of home transitions and I lived at a youth shelter for a month with the request from my guardian that I not go to school. There’s a lot more to the story, but basically I was considered homeless for the month until they could put my guardians up on abandonment charges and actually make a case to put me into foster care.
How did being identified as McKinney-Vento help you in school?
Being identified as McKinney-Vento and then becoming a Foster Youth helped me gain access to resources on my high school campus, both emotionally and financially.
Was school a safe place for you?
Yes. I’ve always thought of school as “home” for me. Whenever life was chaotic and unstable at home, school was my safe place. As a future educator I’ve learned that schools can serve as havens of resilience for youth and I’d say that was definitely true in my case.
How were you transported from the shelter to school?
When I was at the shelter I was not transported to and from school due to request from guardians that I not go to school/be able to access my education since they knew how important school was for me. I had been a 4.0 student since the 6th grade and when dropping me off at the shelter they said, “You’ve completely ruined your life, we’re going to drop you off at the shelter, you won’t be able to go to school for at least a month, and you’re going to have to repeat your senior year.”
How has having the experience of being homeless impacted you?
Having the experience of being homeless has mostly impacted my future career as a future educator. It has increased my passion to give back to the marginalized and often forgot populations that we serve in schools such as students who are homeless or identified as McKinney-Vento and Foster Youth.
What are you up to now?
After receiving my BA in Communications, I am currently a first year student in an M.Ed/Multiple Subjects Credential program at UCLA.
How does a child focus on academics when lacking housing? Specifically, how does a child focus on math homework when they are in a motel, or living in a car, or their textbook and computers are taken, or they are in a shelter wondering where they will live next. Supporting McKinney-Vento programs in schools allows us to collectively meet children’s complex needs while homeless. Case study #3 shows us that to navigate her way to higher education required resources at school—her “home.” Homeless Children Matter because they are our future.
For more information or to arrange a donation, please contact Ginger Harms at 530-642-7238 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch for future articles on the Homeless Children Matter Charity
- March 2018—How LCSAs can help