Streamlining Services for Homeless Students
Written by: Heather Lowe -
This year’s Back to School season is sure to be one unlike any that we have experienced before. COVID-19 has changed plans for schools around the country and many have been forced to pivot to virtual learning, at least temporarily, for the safety of the community. However, we know that for many students experiencing homelessness, not being able to go to school in person presents a unique set of challenges and risks.
With this in mind, we have been working hard over the summer to identify ways that we could help to align the systems that support families experiencing homelessness in Tarrant County; particularly the school districts and the agencies that provide shelter and housing services. By doing so, we hope to be able to create some synergy between the various service providers that will make it easier for children and families to get the support that they need.
The McKinney-Vento Act is a federal law that mandates a variety of services for homeless students that are designed to contribute to their success in school. Under the law, every school district is required to have a homeless liaison on staff to serve as the point person for these programs. We recently facilitated an online event via Zoom that brought together case managers from social service agencies throughout Tarrant County and introduced them to the liaisons from Fort Worth, Arlington, and Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISDs. This “Meet the Liaison” event provided a quick overview of student rights under the McKinney-Vento Act and then gave the case managers and family advocates a chance to virtually “meet” the liaisons from each district. The better the case managers know the liaisons, the faster the student and his or her family can get the help they need. Each district gave a short presentation on the services they provide, as well as how case managers can reach out to connect the families that they support with district services that include transportation, meals, special education, or other supports.
We are hosting a similar event in the coming weeks, but plan to ‘flip the script’ and will be introducing school personnel (homeless liaisons, counselors, etc.) to key individuals in the homeless services community. During the event, we will provide information on homelessness prevention programs (including rental assistance) and the referral process for families that may need shelter or housing services.
Another way that we have been able to help local homeless students is through our recent “Seats and Feets” donation drive, with which we collected new shoes, socks and underwear. Thanks to our amazing supporters, we collected enough items to not only fill the immediate (and future) needs of school-aged children in CTL families, but we were also able to share items with the Homeless Liaisons working in local school districts.
We were thrilled to be able to do so, as they work daily with so many families who are considered to be the “Hidden Homeless” – families that may be living in motels or doubled-up with other families. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to all of you who donated so generously to make that possible.