Public Administration, Homelessness, Children and Public Education — What a Cluster….

**This is another one of my posts that I completed for a course I am taking.  You will see it referes to course materials — but I thought my readers here would also appreciate thinking about homelessness in conjunction with children and education.


When this class started earlier this year, I was struck by an article about homeless students providing challenges for school districts.   Despite my experiences as a Magistrate judge here in Virginia, I for some reason do not think about children being homeless.  When I think about the homeless population, I see adults as in the photo above.  Men and women who for various reasons have found themselves on the streets.  They carry backpacks, bags, and trash bags.  Sometimes pushing their possessions in a stolen shopping card [and yes as a Magistrate I did have to file a charge for someone stealing a shopping card to push their life in].   I think of a population that deals with squatting in abandoned homes (and then getting arrested for it), sleeping in public parks (and getting harassed for it), and perhaps having substance abuse issues (usually cheep beer or mouthwash — typically not a hard drug).

Yet, I suspect that most people are the same — in forgetting that when you have homeless adults, you may have homeless children.   I shelved this article and this post — but piggybacking on my Food Insecurity post, I believe this kind of social change discussion is timely and important.  Mainly, I believe this social change discussion is important from the perspective of my field — public administration   Since it is localities that ultimately have a lot to do with the state of homelessness  or at least the look of it.  

What constitutes homelessness generally?  The Federal Definition of Homelessness from the Horizons for Homeless Children’s website is: “an individual who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence; or an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is: (1) a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill); (2) an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or (3) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings (Source: US Department of Housing and Urban Development).”

More specifically, how do we define homelessness within the public school system?  According to the College of William and Mary School of Education – Project HOPE Virginia website — Title X, Part C of the No Child Left Behind Act defines homelessness as living in the following places due to a lack of a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.

  • In an emergency or transitional shelter
  • In a motel, hotel, or campground
  • In a car, park, public place, bus or train station, or abandoned building
  • Doubled up with relatives or friends
  • In the above conditions and is a migratory child or youth
  • Further descriptions of nighttime residence

This definition of homelessness applies to children and youth with: (1) Uncertain housing; (2) A temporary address; (3) No permanent physical address.Children and youth living in these settings meet criteria for the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness and have special educational rights.

Numbers:  The National Center on Family Homelessness reports that “one in 45 children experience homelessness in America each year” which is over 1.6 million children.”

Discussing only one of the Nation’s largest localities — the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City reports that as of January 2013 “each night more than 55,000 people — including more than 21,000 children — experience homelessness.”  In New York City currently 50,100 homeless men, women, and children sleep in the NYC municipal shelter system, and additionally more than 5,000 homeless adults and children sleep in other public or private shelters.  That still leaves thousands of men, women, and children sleeping on the streets or in other public spaces.  Discussing the impact of homelessness on children — the Coalition states “During the course of each year, more than 110,000 different homeless New Yorkers, including more than 40,000 children, sleep at least one night in the municipal shelter system.” and that “The number of homeless New Yorkers in shelters has risen by more than half over the past decade.”

However youth homelessness is not regulated only to Broadway.  In Washington, D.C. as of January 2013 there are roughly 600 homeless children living on the streets and in the shelters [Source HERE].  In Peroria County, Illinois “students identified as homeless grew from 183 in 2008 to 683 in 2012, a 273 percent jump over five years, according to Ulrich’s figures. With the 2013 school year not quite over, she already had recorded 693 homeless students, most of them from Peoria School District 150.”   [Source HERE] Mary Ellen Ulrich, a homeless liaison at the Peoria County Regional Office of Education states

“Student homelessness is unbelievable. This is my ninth year and the numbers just keep increasing and increasing.”

So What:

“His school is the most stable part of his life.” —Nathaniel Johnson, homeless single parent in Peoria County, I

What I never considered as part of fundmental social change was the issue of education and homelessness — and how they are intertwined.  NCFH states that when children are homeless, “they experience high rates of acute and chronic health problems.  The constant barrage of stressful and traumatic experience also has profound effects on their development and ability to learn.”

Civic entrepreneurs, the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) is the only professional organization specifically dedicated to meeting the educational needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness.  NAEHCY reports that “one million, sixty-five thousand seven hundred ninety-four (1,065,794) homeless students were reported enrolled by LEAs (Local Education Agency) with and without subgrants in SY 2010-11, a 13% increase from SY 2009-10 (939,903), and an 11% increase over the three-year period SY 2008-09 (956,914) to SY 2010-11 (USDOE).”  The organization receives regular reports that for many children and youth — school is a home to them, and a place to potentially allow those students to “gain the skills and support needed to avoid poverty and homelessness as adults.”  Further compounding the issue of school success for homeless children would be their parents — since according to NAEHCY “2/3 of the adults experiencing homelessness have not received a high school diploma or completed a GED.”

From the perspective of Virginia — William & Mary’s Project Hope reported that during the 2011-2012 school year 13,634 children in the Commonwealth were covered with subgrants, and 4,306 students without subgrants.  This is in comparison with 12,507 being covered with subgrants and 3,913 covered without sub grants in 2010-2011.  The Virginia Consolidated State Performance Report is shown below — where one can see the increase in homeless children and youth enrolled in public education, as well as where their primary nighttime residences are.

Virginia Consolidated State Report

Now What:

 As I stated earlier — this isn’t the kind of social change that has generally been discussed within this leadership class.   The social change ideals that have been covered seem to be “easy.”  Issues that must clearly have a solution, or at least a path towards one.   However, we also have seen quite a bit of change (think the Goldstien book) that is part of a private organization.  A nonprofit or business that can foster civic entrepreneurs.

Yet as a Public Administrator — I have to wonder how one can achieve social change through a locality.  Not through the federal government (e.g. the above mentioned McKinley Grants), not through the state — but from a local perspective.   Some of my research as revolved around the idea of Community Oriented Policing (COP) — and the issues that small jurisdictions (e.g. not New York City or Chicago) could have with trying to implement such change.  I feel that homelessness could be the same issue.  How could a place like the City of Roanoke or the Town of Blacksburg implement organizational change to combat student homelessness  or homelessness generally.  What could the Roanoke City School system do to ensure that those kids are well fed and educated, in concuntion with the City adminstration working to solve the issue.

The Coalition for the Homeless (NYC) identified a proposed action plan in their 2013 State of the Homeless report, and highlighted four (4) major tasks that could help with their issues:

1. Target Permanent Housing Resources to Homeless New Yorkers
· Utilize existing Federal and City housing resources to move homeless families and individuals from the shelter system into permanent housing.
· Work with the State to create an effective State-City rental assistance program.
· Negotiate with the State a renewed “New York/New York Agreement” to create permanent supportive housing for homeless New Yorkers living with mental illness and other special needs.

2. Remove Barriers to Shelter for Homeless Families and Individuals
· Reform the current shelter eligibility process for homeless families, which currently results in many homeless children and families being wrongfully denied emergency shelter.
· Withdraw proposed shelter eligibility rules for homeless single adults which would, according to City officials, result in as many as 10,000 homeless women and men being denied shelter each year.
· Guarantee that all homeless children, families, and individuals can access emergency shelter during weather emergencies, including when temperatures fall below freezing.

3. Ensure That Affordable Housing for the Poorest NYC Households Is a Key Part of the Recovery from Hurricane Sandy
· Work with the Federal government to secure at least 10,000 Federal Section 8 housing vouchers to help displaced individuals and families secure permanent housing.
· Ensure that displaced households who receive temporary rental assistance are guaranteed a transition to long-term housing stability, such as a Section 8 voucher.
· Make immediate and long-term repairs to subsidized and supportive housing damaged during the storm.
· Any new housing construction must expand stock of housing affordable to extremely low-income households.

4. Reform and Improve the Shelter System for Homeless Families and Adults
· End the use of the so-called “cluster-site”/”scatter-site” shelter program (i.e., apartment buildings used as temporary shelter at enormous cost).
· Phase out the use of commercial hotels and motels as temporary shelter, primarily for families.
· Revise punitive administrative rules which threaten termination of shelter for many homeless adults and families, the majority of whom are people living with mental illness.
· Eliminate so-called “Next Step” shelters, which have punitive rules and conditions and inadequate social services for homeless families and adults.

I believe that those steps could be modified for a smaller jurisdiction to implement social change within their organization on how to deal with the homeless, and inevitably assist homeless children.   Local jurisdictions may have a harder time implementing social change in their origination due to the fact that funds taken to “pay Peter” will be stolen from “Paul” (as my southern mother used to always say).  There is also a social construction that homeless adults are deviants  and perhaps if they were better people/workers/so on they would not be in this predicament (see Schnider and Ingram).  Therefore it is hard for a locality to find funding for things like non-mandated social services and the arts vs. roads and public safety.  So my blog post ends with a question — how can a small locality enact social change?  How can that “do it” focus, those conversations — how do you change something when you have a multifaceted mission (e.g. providing services for an entire locality) and you have extremely limited resources and no ability to “fundraise” minus raising some sort of tax or fee?  How can a place like Roanoke or Blacksburg move towards eradicating homelessness and supporting homeless children without the assistance of a nonprofit?  How can a city enact social change?



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