Homework Without a Home
Panel discusses supports for students experiencing homelessness
December 20, 2017
By Mary Grace Roske, Vice President of Marketing and Communications
The number of homeless students in Washington state doubled during the last ten years. We have more students than ever experiencing disruptions in their learning as they endure multiple school changes and absences in their families’ search for stable housing. These students drop out of high school at a rate twice the state average.
On December 6, The Seattle Times LiveWire event series and The Seattle Times’ Project Homeless took a hard look at efforts to help homeless kids stay in school, find permanent housing and learn to thrive. Project Homeless is a new Seattle Times initiative that explores and seeks solutions to the region’s complex homelessness problem.
The statistics of student homelessness in Seattle are sobering – and growing. One in every 16 students in Seattle is homeless. About half are in fifth grade or younger. And, 87 percent of homeless kids in Seattle Public Schools are students of color, contributing to the widening achievement gap between black and white students.
While schools have limited power to address the underlying causes of homelessness, their roles and responsibilities to support student success are significant under the McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth Assistance Act. This federal law provides funding to serve homeless students, ensuring immediate enrollment and educational stability for them,
With speakers including Jonathon Houston of Equal Opportunity Schools, Katara Jordan of Building Changes, Jonathan Martin, Project Homeless Editor, and Katy Miller of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, The Seattle Times LiveWire event focused on work underway to meet – and exceed -- the obligations under McKinney-Vento.
McKinney-Vento mandates these specific rights for students:
•To continue in the school they were in before they became homeless or the school they attend if they are homeless now;
•Transportation to and from school;
•To enroll and attend classes without giving a permanent address or if they are missing documents normally required for enrollment.
Every public school district is required to have a designated liaison to identify homeless kids and help them stay in one school and connect their families to needed services. Housing questionnaires help identify these students, but more often it is teachers and staff members who first spot the signs of housing instability and provide connections to appropriate assistance. Washington state ranks seventh in the nation for its effectiveness in identifying homeless students and is one of the few states that supplements federal dollars with state funds for this purpose.
Earlier this year, All Home King County, which coordinates Seattle and King County’s efforts to address homelessness, was awarded $5.4 million in McKinney-Vento funds to support a wide range of housing programs to prevent and end youth homelessness. All Home will expand key strategies including increased family engagement and other forms of diversion, stronger behavioral health supports and a coordinated response for youth under 18 experiencing or at risk of homelessness. In addition, Senator Patty Murray recently introduced legislation to create incentives for federally funded housing authorities to work more closely with schools to prevent youth homelessness. At the state level, local nonprofit Mockingbird Society was successful in securing partial credit for classes when appropriate, helping homeless students move forward on the track toward graduation.
Other efforts underway focus on increasing funding for homelessness prevention work; facilitating data exchange between overlapping systems (foster care, education, justice, etc.) to support students at risk of becoming homeless; and ensuring all of the supports and provisions of McKinney-Vento are fully realized.
Project Homeless is supported by Seattle Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Campion Foundation, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Seattle Mariners and Starbucks.