Provide ‘Oasis of Stability’ to Homeless Children
of McKinney-Vento Act Expected to Have Positive Results for Children
in Temporary Housing
By Marylena Mantas
months ago, Kerryann Heron, was evicted from her apartment in
Brooklyn after her roommate ceased paying her share of the rent.
Financially unable to sustain that apartment, Heron, a 27-year-old
single mother of two boys, gathered her belongings and went to
the Emergency Assistance Unit (EAU) in the Bronx to seek placement
in a shelter. A month after her visit to the EAU, Heron, who had
been temporarily placed in a shelter, walked through the doors
of the Red Cross Respite II located on E. 28th St off
5th Avenue. She was offered a small room—equipped with
beds, a table, two chairs, a refrigerator, a microwave and a private
bathroom—that she and her two boys have made home.
Her current neighbor, Jennifer Saldana, 23, found herself on the
same path after giving birth to her second child, who is asthmatic.
She was forced to leave the basement apartment she shared with
six other family members—who were evicted a few weeks after Saldana
moved—because the poor living conditions posed a hazard to the
newborn’s health. Last February, she moved into the Red Cross
Although both women admit to occasionally feeling or having felt
scared, they both appear determined to overcome the odds and provide
better homes for their children.
can’t be scared. I have two children to raise,” says Saldana,
who hopes to earn her GED and become a nurse’s aide. Heron explained
that the only thing she fears now is death. “I am a woman of confidence,”
says Heron, who now works part-time as a nurse’s aide and plans
to become a licensed nurse practitioner. “Whatever I aim for I
get. To be scared is not my thing. I am an advocate for myself.”
These families are only two of 92 living at the Red Cross Respite
II, a 13-floor facility with over 200 rooms, housed in the Latham
Hotel, which became a welfare hotel in the mid 1980s. The Red
Cross serves as the parent organization of the Respite, which
houses the Emergency Family Center—a Tier II facility designed
only for mothers and children—and the Family Respite Center, which
provides housing to elderly individuals, AIDS patients and other
who need a place to live.
The children of Heron and Saldana number only four of approximately
9,000 children in New York City who live in temporary housing
sites. They are also four of 1.35 million children nationwide
who experience homelessness annually. The two mothers decided
to transfer their two school aged boys, Jimmy and Justin, to schools
located close to the Red Cross Respite II, even though they, like
all parents who live in temporary housing have the right—as a
result of the McKinney Act, which was enacted in 1987 to protect
the educational rights of homeless children—to keep their children
enrolled in their school of origin. Today 80 percent of homeless
children are enrolled in school—a sharp increase from the 1980s
when only 50 percent of homeless children went to school. By large,
the increase is due to the effect of the McKinney Act, which made
recommendations to ensure that states remove barriers that prevented
homeless students from attending school.
In NYC Community School Districts provide homeless parents with
metro cards to transport their children to their original school.
In addition, school buses have been rerouted to accommodate the
needs of students, while buses make stops at the various shelters
around the City, including the Red Cross Respite II. Still parents
often opt to bring their children to school close to their shelter
since the commute becomes difficult, as it did in the case of
Heron and Saldana, who also had to care for younger children.
Thus, these days, Jimmy Heron and Justin Saldana board a regular
school bus that takes them from the Respite to their new schools.
For children who are homeless transferring to a new school means
adjusting to new surroundings and making new friends, while trying
to adjust to having no permanent home. According to Camille Huggins,
the Assistant Director of Family Programs at the Red Cross Respite
II, several students experience academic difficulties, especially
when their new school has more rigorous academic standards. Huggins
added that the Respite provides tutoring and after school programs
to assist students in that situation, while representatives from
the Respite meet with parents and schedule meetings between parents,
teachers and principals.
Academic challenges further intensify for children living in temporary
housing, since they often change schools more than once. According
to Lourdes Estrella, Principal of PS 62 in the Bronx where a substantial
percentage of the student body live in shelters, some students
enroll in PS 62 after having attended several schools. According
to Estrella, the children and their parents arrive at the schools
frustrated and angry.
show parents high respect, so that they can trust us,” she said.
“We believe that one kind word can have an impact. We’ve seen
evidence of that and it’s beautiful.”
Educators at PS 62 underscored that schools often have an impact
in areas beyond the academic sphere.
[homelessness] has changed our schools. The education of the child
is extremely important. But, we are no longer just an educational
institution. We are a homeless institution, a social and emotional
institution,” said PS 62 Assistant Principal Lisa Manfredonia,
adding that the school often assists parents in locating agencies
and that community members help them in everything from housing,
to dental care, to attaining prescription glasses.
John Hughes, the principal of PS 48 in the Bronx also characterized
the school as a community institution and added that his staff
has been instructed to help parents even if their concerns are
not directly related to their child’s academics. The school provides
children with access to a health care facility—established in
the school by a community-based organization—counseling and after
school programs, while it encourages parents to further their
own education through GED programs.
Twenty-nine out of the 32 Community School Districts (CSD) in
New York City have shelters. A district coordinator is assigned
by the Board of Education (BOE) to every CSD to ensure that children
living in temporary housing receive all the educational services
they are entitled to. In addition, an on-site contact is assigned
to every shelter and scattersite housing to work with the residents.
The on-site contact works with parents as soon as they enter the
shelter to enroll the children in school. The on-site contact
functions as the liaison between the school and the shelter and
the school and the parent and is responsible for helping to resolve
any problems that emerge, such as poor attendance.
According to PS 48 Attendance Coordinator Pat Mullins, problems
with attendance usually spark a phone call to the on-site contact,
a phone call to the parent if they have access to a phone and
sometimes a visit to the shelter. Mullins also offers various
incentives to encourage children to come to school, including
ice cream and cookie parties to those classes with 100 percent
students have gone through some sort of trauma…yet, some do remarkable
work,” she said. According to Robert Diaz, director of the BOE
Attendance Improvement Dropout Prevention Programs/Office of Students
in Temporary Housing, the BOE receives funding from the New York
State Department of Education, which it then distributes to school
districts to provide services to members of their student body
in temporary housing. The funds are part of the Attendance Improvement
and Drop-Out Prevention Money, which amounted to $6 million in
the past academic year. The allocations are provided to ensure
that students receive various support services, including after
school programs, academic enrichment programs, counseling and
transportation. Districts can also use funds set-aside as part
of the federal Title I program for homeless children, or they
can apply for McKinney grants.
districts are responsible to ensure that the youngsters’ needs
are met,” said Diaz. “We enhance whatever services the schools
have. Since this population has greater needs than the regular
population we have to address the issues and enhance the services.
We do whatever we can to help these families.”
He added, “The system is as effective as possible. We are constantly
changing according to the needs. The system is not fool proof.
It’s constantly changing.”
According to Diaz, the BOE liaisons work hard to ensure that “the
lines of communication are open between schools and shelters.”
He believes that school provides homeless children with a sense
of “continuity and safety.”
Most of the services provided to the homeless student population
in NYC will soon extend to students in the approximately 700 school
districts in NYS and to others nationwide. Although the recent
reauthorization of the McKinney Act, which became effective on
July 1, will not impact NYC because most of the provisions put
forward have been activated in NYC for quite some time, advocates
for the education of children who are homeless are expecting the
reauthorization to have an effect on other school districts.
remains one of the greatest unresolved issues facing our nation.
In spite of the unprecedented resources devoted to addressing
this problem, the system of delivering and enhancing services
to homeless children must be improved. With the reauthorization
of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, we are on a new
trajectory that will increase the ability of homeless children
and youth to enroll, attend and succeed in school. Among a host
of other revisions, the new law expands the definition of who
is considered homeless; ensures that homeless children and youth
be given the opportunity to meet the same challenging State academic
standards that all students are expected to meet; spells out the
rights of homeless students relative to school selection, segregation,
enrollment, dispute resolutions and the provision of transportation;
and mandates that every school district designate a homeless liaison
to act as an advocate for homeless students and their families,”
said Gay Wainwright, the New York State Coordinator for the Education
of Homeless Children and Youth, of the National Center for Homeless
The reauthorization comes at a time when the number of homeless
children is growing around the nation.
for the homeless says that one of the major reasons for this is
the recent economic boom, for some, that provided cash that was
used to buy up what was previously unaffordable properties (and
that was historically used as rental properties) thereby resulting
in a lack of rental/affordable housing. This, coupled with the
lack of a living wage, affordable child care, affordable housing,
and mass transit, were the major contributors to the increase
in the number of homeless nationwide,” said Kate Ventura, director
of the New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center
for Homeless Students (NYSTEACHS).
She noted that the number of homeless on Long Island is the highest
ever recorded according to the Suffolk County Department of Social
Services. In New York City, according to Diaz, the number of scatter
sites has increased to 1,700 from 200 last year when the program
Ventura and Barbara Duffield, of the National Coalition for the
Homeless, cited the lack of awareness as a main challenge in bettering
the education system for the homeless. NYSTEACHS has been holding
training sessions around the State to make districts aware of
the reauthorizations and to assist school districts in taking
necessary steps to comply with the legislation.
we do not intersect to change the life of these children, they
may just repeat the history of their parents or guardians,” said
Ventura. “We have to change the playing fields of schools. They
[the students] will come to school frightened, hungry and tired.
The school districts need to address that. We need to look at
the American family and see what they need. They need socialization
more than before,” she added and called for an “increase in the
funding of McKinney grants. And, support for the collaboration
among state holders on all levels; federal, state and local.”
Duffield agreed. “We have our work cut out for us to make sure
that he law has been implemented. We want to see the promise of
McKinney made reality,” she said, adding that for homeless children
schools serve as “the oasis of stability at a time of great upheaval.”
experience of homelessness leaves children with academic and emotional
needs that go far beyond the resources of schools to adequately
address. We continue to encourage our elected officials and policy
makers to take the necessary steps to eradicate homelessness and
to improve the lot of society’s neediest children,” said Wainwright.#
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