Happy new year to all of you and I hope you had a great holiday. I was able to take some time off and see some relatives that I have not seen in a while, but that is par for the course. I even did some traveling and ate some great food. Now that I have loosened my belt, I am ready to work again.
Tis the season to think of new year resolutions. One of mine is to do a better job of reaching out to all my family members. You know how it goes. Work gets to you, and you forget to send emails and letters to all those who are close. Time just gets away from you. Have you checked your mail lately? How many of you now have enough calendars to wallpaper a wall?
Speaking of family, think about all the families you serve in your district. Now think of the families less fortunate than us spending their holiday at a soup kitchen or shelter. Brandon was such a youth at 16 he and his family were homeless.
Since it is the time of giving, I wanted to share the story of Brandon, from Schoolhouse Connection’s Voices of Youth. At 16, Brandon left an abusive father to live with his mother who was addicted to meth. He went from a roof over his head to living homeless to escape. When you read Brandon’s story think of all the kids you help on the daily basis just like Brandon with your outreach and constant vigilance to the McKinney-Vento Program. Would you have identified Brian and his family?
Brandon’s story reminds us that like Brandon there are millions of students just looking for stability.
“If I could characterize my experiences with homelessness in one word, it would be “unstable,” said Brandon. “ It took a rock-solid foundation, knowing that my needs are consistently going to be met and my goals are going to be supported before I was able to put roots down and grow into the healthiest version of myself, I could be. Homelessness is often accompanied by other forms of resource scarcity: lack of food, transportation, and communication to name a few.”
Brandon became a success story because people like you did their jobs and were able to get him a Schoolhouse Connection scholarship. Brandon is not homeless anymore and attending college because McKinney-Vento helped him out. He was identified. But with one success, we all know our job is never done. The job of identifying those experiencing homelessness in the school system is never-ending. Most of those that are homeless elude identification because they are couch surfing or staying with relatives and for whatever reason, some just want to remain anonymous.
Michael Ferguson with National Center for homeless Education was speaking at the recent webinar, Supporting the Unique Needs of Students Who Have Run Away or Are Homeless. He put it this way, “This is a population that is undercounted,” he said. “… Some of these kids, especially the adolescents, are hiding in plain sight. Some of them don't want to be found, the system, their family or whatever has failed them, and they think they're better off on their own. And it's incumbent upon the adults in order to be paying attention, to be watching and to be listening.”
Michael believes it takes a whole village to be watching our communities. “It requires everyone in that school community to have their eyes and their ears open because it's just not visual,” Ferguson said. “ You're going to hear about it, you're going to hear about the difference in the behavior of a child.”
The webinar, Supporting the Unique Needs of Students who have run away or are homeless featured The National Runaway Safe line, NRS, an organization dedicated to youth who are runaways and homeless. During the webinar, NRS, talked about the importance of data collected in the 2021 Crisis Services and Prevention Report, which was developed in collaboration with Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
According to this report, youth under age 15 are the fastest-growing age group served by NRS, and additionally, the report shows mental health issues continue to rise.
Are we doing a great job Identifying these youth that needs our help? Youth homelessness impacts nearly 4.2 million young people ages 13 to 25 in the U. S. And this statistic is growing.
Here are some more alarming stats:
The number of contacts under the age of 15 increased from 3,500 in 2019 to 5,366 in 2021, an increase of 53%. Within this figure, contacts specifically under 12 rose from 284 in 2019 to 718 in 2021, an exponential increase of 153%. Overall, this indicates that youth between the ages of 12 and 14 is NRS’ fastest-growing population of contacts, with an alarming increase in youth reaching out under the age of 12.
Between 2019 and 2021, the number of contacts who identified as transgender or non-binary increased by 134%.
In 2019, 4,690 contacts reported mental health as a reason for crisis intervention, compared to 6,099 contacts in 2020 and 6,554 in 2021, an increase of 40%. Mental health continues as one of the top three reasons youth reach out for help. Prior to 2020, in nearly 48 years of operation, NRS had rarely found mental health to be a top ten reason youth contacted the organization.
The percentage of contacts citing family dynamics, emotional abuse, and physical abuse as reasons for crisis intervention also increased from 2019 to 2020 and remained elevated in 2021.
The number of youths residing at home at the time of contact increased from 10,986 in 2019 to 13,925 in 2020 and then decreased to 11,015 in 2021. While this arc aligns with the broad nature of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions across the country, the 2021 figure falls below the rate of youth reaching out from home in 2018, well before the beginning of the pandemic.
Now is the time to increase our efforts in identification. We all are getting a nice break for the holidays and so now we can hit the road running. Here are some things you can do. Use benchmarks to see if your program needs help. The following benchmarks were provided by NCHE:
2.5% of the overall student population
6.5 % of the students eligible for free lunch
If the overall McKinney-Vento numbers are below 2.5 percent of their total student population or 6.5 percent of their free lunch students, it is a sign you might need to engage in more outreach.
Take the time to check your outreach. NRS says that 82 percent of the contacts they had were from youth that had seen their website. How is your information being shared?
If you have a website—check it out.
Check to see that your website is easily accessible
Check to see what languages your website is available in
Are the educational rights of Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness posted along with a definition of homelessness and the current McKinney-Vento Liaison contact info?
Where is that information posted if not on the website?
Can you find the info at the local schools, post office, library, or other public buildings?
Do the images on those documents represent all the students?
What languages are you putting on your outreach materials and information materials?
Now all I want you to do is examine your local data to determine if you need improved outreach or identification of students experiencing homelessness in your district. Use those benchmarks! Now is the perfect time to do this after a break when we are all feeling fresh, and if you need some help give me a call.