One of the questions we hear most often is “Where do the children in your programs go to school?” The answer to this is easy. Thanks to the McKinney-Vento Act, the parents of homeless students can either send their children to their school of origin or choose to send them to school in Ridgewood where the Family Center is located.
A far more difficult question to answer is “Who is actually homeless?” One of the challenges of dealing with families is a lack of a consistent definition.
According to the HUD definition, you must be literally homeless at that moment. Families living in shelters, their cars, or a motel paid for by an organization or agency are considered to be homeless. But we know that most homeless families are not living in shelters or on the street. Whenever possible, homeless families tend to double or triple up, often in overcrowded and sometimes unsafe situations. What this means is that there are many more homeless families living precariously with relatives and friends whom HUD does not acknowledge as being homeless and, therefore, has no plans to address this situation or allocate funding.
The McKinney-Vento definition includes families who have no permanent place to live and are staying with others. It does not allocate money for housing but does provide funding for anything deemed necessary to ensure homeless children have “equal access to the same free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education, as provided to other children and youths.” This includes things like school supplies, uniforms, funding for class trips, and enrichment programs. For this reason, and because the homeless liaisons are bound to keep families’ identities confidential, homeless families are more likely to self-identify to the schools.
Family Promise works closely with the County’s McKinney-Vento Specialist and the Homeless Liaisons from the schools to make sure families in their districts are aware of Family Promise and the programs we offer. With targeted services, we can help those families who are doubled and tripled up and address the issues that are keeping them from returning to stable housing and thriving.
Wishing a safe, successful school year to all our children and their families,