School board members this week received an update on services provided to homeless students under the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act. November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.
For the 2015-2016 school year, WCPSS provides services to 2,736 homeless students. This number represents a 23 percent increase in the number of homeless students in WCPSS since 2009-2010. Staff report that as a state, North Carolina under-identifies the number of homeless students. This means that in truth, there are more homeless students that have yet to be identified. At every school, a liaison works to identify homeless students and make sure they have access to services for which they are eligible.
Homeless students do not have a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” This means homeless students may live “doubled-up” with other families in the same home, in hotels or motels, in shelters, or in cars or parks.
The McKinney Vento Act is about providing school stability for homeless children, as homeless children who change schools may need four to six months to recover academically. Yes – students are provided free breakfast and lunch. And, they are provided access to the school they were attending prior to being displaced from their home, including transportation. (They may choose to attend the school closest to them if they would like.)
There are also dedicated spots for them in YMCA summer programs and afterschool programs.
Information provided by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth composes a disturbing profile of homeless students. Compared to other students, they are:
4 times as sick
2 times the rate of hunger
3 times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems
4 times as likely to show development delays
2 times as likely to have learning disabilities
83 percent have been exposed to at least 1 serious violent event
25 percent witness violence within their family
For homeless children, school is more than a place of academic learning. At a very basic level, school is a daytime shelter, a place for meals and first aid, and a place to shower. School is also a place to access a library and the internet, as well as positively interact with others.
If you know a family that can make use of these services, please encourage them to reach out to a guidance counselor at their school.