On Sunday, March 6th, 60 Minutes aired a segment about the impact the recession has had on families and children. It featured the efforts of Seminole County Schools’ homeless education program and its school district homeless liaison, Beth Davalos.

After the program aired Seminole County was inundated with calls from people asking how they could help. Although this has been an enormous problem in our country for years, most people were shocked to find out that this was going on in a country so rich with resources.
I was shocked to hear that so many people were unaware of the homeless problem among youth and school children.

Do we still hold to the stereotype that homeless people are lazy, drug addicts living off of our tax dollars?

Could it be that so many of us are so wrapped up in our own little world of iPhones, Kindels, and plasma TVs that those who struggle with day to day necessities become invisible to us?

National statistics report the number of homeless kids at more than 1.5 million. More than 500 thousand are still under the age of 15, and some are as young as nine!

As responsible people we should try to reach these kids! We should try and try again. And if we commit ourselves to stepping out of our comfort zone to help just one homeless family we may never know, that a few years from now, a youngster was able to leave the streets because of the commitment and work we did today.

The single greatest need, for homeless and street kids is our continuous caring and real support. We must convince them that we care, and we want to help them get off the streets. Don’t give up. They need us!

13 homeless youth die every day!

How Many Children and Youth Experience Homelessness?
Final national numbers for the 2008-2009 school year have not yet been compiled by the U.S. Department of Education. According to the most recent federal data, in the 2008-2009 school year, 954,914 homeless children and youth were enrolled in public schools.

This is a 20 percent increase from the 2007-2008 school year, and a 41% increase from the 2006-2007 school year. It is important to note that this number is not an exact estimate of child and youth homelessness; in fact, it is an underestimate, because not all school districts reported data to the U.S. Department of Education, and because the data collected represents only those children identified and enrolled in school.

Finally, the number does not include all preschool-age children, or any infants and toddlers. The economic downturn and foreclosure crisis have had a significant impact on homelessness: according to a national survey, one in five responding school districts reported having more homeless children in the Fall of 2008 than over the course of the entire 2007-2008 school year.

Recent research indicates that child homelessness may be more widespread than school data suggests. A study published in the August 2009 edition of the American Journal of Public Health found that seven percent of fifth-graders and their families have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.

How Does Homelessness Affect Children and Youth’s Education?
With life filled with such uncertainty and loss, school should be a place of safety, structure, and opportunity. Yet homeless children and youth face difficult barriers to basic education.

These barriers include being unable to meet enrollment requirements. (Providing proof of residency, legal guardianship, and school health records.) Lack of transportation; lack of school supplies and clothing; and poor health, fatigue, and hunger are also a big problem for these children. When these barriers are not addressed, homeless children and youth often are unable to attend, or even enroll in, school, which prevents them from obtaining the education that is both their legal right and their best hope of escaping poverty as adults.

What Educational Rights Do Homeless Children and Youth Have?
Subtitle VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (referred to as the McKinney-Vento Act) is a federal law designed to remove barriers to education created by homelessness, and thereby increase the enrollment, attendance, and success of children and youth experiencing homelessness. Key provisions of the Act include:
* Students who are homeless can remain in one school, even if their temporary living situation is located in another school district or attendance area, if that is in their best interest. Schools must provide transportation.
* Children and youth who are homeless can enroll in school and begin attending immediately, even if they cannot produce normally required documents, such as birth certificates, proof of guardianship, immunization records, or proof of residency.
* Every school district must designate a homeless liaison to ensure the McKinney-Vento Act is implemented in the district. Homeless liaisons have many critical responsibilities, including identification, enrollment, and collaboration with community agencies.
* Every state must designate a state coordinator to ensure the McKinney-Vento Act is implemented in the state.
* Both state coordinators and homeless liaisons must collaborate with other agencies serving homeless children, youth, and families to enhance educational attendance and success.
* State departments of education and school districts must review and revise their policies and practices to eliminate barriers to the enrollment and retention in school of homeless children and youth.

What Can I Do to Help?
There are many ways to help children and youth experiencing homelessness:
Volunteer or donate locally
Every community is unique, so it is important to learn the needs that have been identified by your local school district and by community service providers.
Contact your School District
Every school district is required to designate a local homeless education liaison, which is responsible for coordinating services and support for homeless students attending in the district. You can contact your local liaison by calling your school district, or you may contact your State Coordinator for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.
Contact a Community Service Provider in your area
To find local homeless service providers in your community, please visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Continuum of Care webpage http://www.hudhre.info/index.cfm?do=viewCocContacts or the National Coalition for the Homeless’ national, state, and local directories. http://www.nationalhomeless.org/directories/index.html

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