With the new school year just beginning, community observers may not realize that some students don’t have a traditional or permanent place to live.
“Most of these homeless situations (last year) were temporary and the families were able to find employment and adequate housing,” said Dr. Joy Hudson, supervisor of special education at Cleveland City Schools.
A few of the homeless families were transient and have now moved out of the Cleveland area.
“Most recently, a family of six, including a mother, a father and four children, came into the Cleveland City Schools as a homeless family,” she said. “During the year, with support from organizations in Cleveland, this family obtained employment for both the mother and father, and they found adequate housing meeting the three requirements of (permanent) living arrangements.”
To meet adequate housing standards, the living arrangements must be fixed, regular and adequate at nighttime; otherwise, families might be designated as homeless. They may be living in motels, hotels or campgrounds, or they also could be living in emergency or transitional shelters. Eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis, Hudson said. Some scenarios are clear-cut, while others require more investigation before the determination of homelessness is made, she added.
Mary Simons, executive director of the Chattanooga Homeless Coalition, described these homeless students as “precariously housed.” And, she went on to say the education of homeless students is definitely negatively impacted and they would be much more successful in school if their living conditions were not so disrupted.
The federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act further provides additional guidelines for determining homeless status, as well as providing other guidelines for helping homeless students.
“The McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to immediately enroll homeless children,” Hudson said. “The enrolling school must contact the last school attended to obtain relevant records to aid in enrollment. The school also should refer the child to the school homeless liaison for assistance in obtaining immunization records.”
Also, the McKinney-Vento Act requires that homeless students receive help with transportation and that school districts must provide or arrange transportation for the student to stay at the school of origin, even if the student moves to a different county or school district. So, if a student who is homeless moves across district lines, then both districts have to work together to provide transportation.
There still are homeless students who are attending school this year as well in Cleveland and Bradley County, and they fall under the McKinney-Vento Act.
In addition, “Every Child, Every Day” is the motto of Cleveland City Schools, which means that the school system ensures every child, including the homeless, receives high quality instruction.
“‘Every child’ implies [the school system] promotes success for every individual child every day,” said Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of the Cleveland City Schools. “Furthermore, the homeless children and their families are treated with dignity and respect like all other students.
The city’s Consolidated Plan, part of the Community Development Block Grant Funds for 2009-14, has the prioritized objective to create 10 additional shelter beds and two units of transitional housing.
Dwight Donohue, executive director of the Cleveland Emergency Shelter, reported there are four families currently staying at the shelter, with children from toddlers through fourth grade.
While the number of families changes, Donohue said “it’s not uncommon for us” to have families staying at the shelter. “It ebbs and flows.”
The families with children currently living at the shelter include a single parent with a first-grade child; two parents with a toddler and a 3-year-old; a single parent with both a first- and second-grader; and another single parent with a second- and a fourth-grader.
“We try to put them at ease,” Donohue said.
As homelessness increases, the shelter works with area churches and organizations to try to help supply the students with what they’ll need in school.
“They don’t have a big ‘H’ on their heads. ... You don’t know if a person is homeless unless they tell you. ... I haven’t noticed any difference in the kids. ... It’s less of an issue (these days) because they know others are homeless,” Donohue said.
Currently, Bradley County Schools only has one student classified as homeless, according to Sammie Humphrey, assistant to the director of the Bradley County Schools, Johnny McDaniel.
“Bradley County Schools is always concerned and compassionate toward those students who are considered homeless,” McDaniel said. “The system follows all guidelines and regulations for providing for these students. System personnel provide every possible assistance, as well as referrals, to other agencies.”
For more information on this issue, contact Gary Austin, supervisor of student services, at Bradley County Schools.
The Cleveland Emergency Center is located at 745 Wildwood Ave., S.E., and its phone number is 423-478-1458.
The Caring Place is located at 130 Wildwood Ave., S.E., and can be reached at 423-472-4414.
Family Promise can be reached at 423-650-4106.
The Salvation Army is located at 435 Inman St. W. and can be reached by phone at 423-790-5687.
For more information on education and the homeless, visit the Tennessee Department of Education Homeless Education website at www.tennessee.gov/education/fedprog/fphomeless.shtml or call Karen P. Munn, project director for Homeless Education & School Recognition at 615-532-6309. She may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.