Housing, Homelessness and Education

Video of the People’s Affordable Housing Vision Press Conference, 10/4/2010.

Yesterday the People’s Affordable Vision proposals were introduced at the above press conference.  There is much more on Forward Lookout, here and here.  These are all good and important proposals.

Also yesterday, I was made aware of the work a couple of friends of mine are undertaking to improve conditions and opportunities for homeless students.  I’ll be posting more about this work as it develops.

The Madison Metropolitan School District’s Transition Education Program (TEP) has been called  “outstanding” and has won at least one award.   We should be proud of the work  our district does, but I’m not sure we can ever do enough in seeking to help students who are homeless.    I have heard that there are currently about 400 homeless students served by the MMSD TEP program.  I’d guess that there are many more who’s housing is less than secure.

Each year the FDA publishes data on “Food Insecurity.”  It should surprise no one and shame all that Food Insecurity is rising, especially among the young.  Food Insecurity is linked to the poverty based achievement gap, directly via health issues and malnutrition, and indirectly because children who don’t know if their school lunch will be their only meal have more to worry about than diagramming sentences or memorizing math facts.

I don’t think there is a national “Housing Insecurity” index, although the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families does a great job tracking many statistics on the well-being of children and advocating for policies that will help (check their Vote for Kids campaign).  They report that

• In 2008, 16,241 people, including 4,744 children, used
emergency shelter in Wisconsin homeless shelters.
• For the 2007/2008 school year, 9,331 homeless students
were served by Wisconsin public schools.

And observe:

Stable housing plays a crucial role in children’s well-being. Kids who grow up in unstable housing situations tend to do worse in school, have more behavioral problems, and suffer poorer health than their peers.

When talking about services to the homeless or housing programs we often use the term “safety net.”  When thinking about homeless children I think it needs to be a safety blanket, because  some might slip through a net.

Sign on in support of the People’s Housing Vision (petition site), Vote for Kids and stay tuned for ways to get involved with,  ideas, programs and policies to  improve the lives and opportunities of homeless kids.

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under Best Practices, education, Equity, Local News, Take Action, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Housing, Homelessness and Education

  1. It is my understanding that TEP has changed in the past two years. At the elementary level, kids now enroll in the school attendance area their shelter is in. In the past, they all attended Emerson. Services were provided at that one location. I think transportation costs were one reason this changed. Another may have been the increase in the number of homeless elementary age kids.

    At the middle and high school level, students must now attend the school where the shelter is located. If they want to continue at their previous school, they must find and pay for their own transportation.

    At O’Keeffe, we had a social worker who worked mostly with homeless kids because about 70% of the kids in shelters were in that attendance area. She was moved last year to Lowell so she could better serve all three middle schools in the East attendance area. I have not heard how that is working out.

    In 1994, the Progressive Magazine profiled Madison’s TEP. The program then was unique because elementary kids attended Emmerson until they had a more permanent address. This provided some stability at school. Now they change schools as often as they change location. It is my understanding that because of time limits for staying in certain shelters, kids may have to change schools after a month or two.

  2. Heidi Wegleitner

    Thanks for this important post, TJ.

    In response to the first comment: I thought that the McKinney Act required the district to provide transportation so homeless kids could finish the year at the school where they were attending prior to homelessness until they had a new permanent residence?

  3. I’m not an expert, but for at least 10 years MMSD has provided transportation for students who lose housing to allow them to finish the year in the school they started.

    In 2009, the Board of Education passed what I was told were minor changes to their policy. One of these limited the District’s responsibility for transportation. In the past, when a homeless student moved to permanent housing during the year and wished to stay in their old school, the district had provided Metro bus tickets to allow them to stay in the school they currently attended. Under the new policy this was discontinued. At the time a friend who worked with homeless families told me that very few had used this option.

  4. I’m no expert on TEP either. I just know that the program is changing in response to a more limited budget and increased demand for the services. I have no idea if the changes are good or bad.

  5. Laura

    You wrote — “I have no idea if the changes are good or bad.”

    I say let’s find out. Some people are working on this and related things. Do you want to help?


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