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Archive for Monday, January 22, 2007

District offers services for homeless students

January 22, 2007

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Images of homeless people typically involve adults who have hit hard times and ended up on the streets.

But educators in Lawrence public schools say they see the homeless every day - as young students in their classrooms.

"A homeless child would be considered anyone who's 'doubled up,'" said Nancy DeGarmo, principal at New York School. "So, for example, if I lose my apartment for whatever reason and I take my family and I move in with my sister and her family, that's doubling up. And then that one family would be considered homeless."

"Doubling up" is the most common type of homelessness in Lawrence schools, officials say. But there also are families living in cars, shelters, hotel rooms or on the streets.

There are 79 children in those categories who are counted among the homeless in Lawrence schools.

That provides a challenge to teachers and administrators, who try to give such students everything from a ride to school to a sense of normalcy.

"We want to provide a safe environment, provide consistency for those kids so that in this turmoil (and) upheaval of life, the one place they know is going to be stable is their school," DeGarmo said.

Ellen Willets helps coordinate transportation requests from homeless students in the district.

It's important, she said, that children don't have to hop from one school to another because of an unstable home life.

"If a family loses their housing or becomes homeless and needs to move from one side of the town to the other, it's extremely important that they be in school and that the consistency of the school remains the same," Willets said.

The schools also provide guidance counselors, social workers and other assistance at every building to help children and their families get back on their feet.

"Is there support that we can provide them to get a location to live that is more permanent?" Willets said. "Do they need help as far as food, clothing? Is it an electrical issue?"

Educators say the homeless population in their schools might, in fact, be larger than what has been counted. No neighborhood is immune, they say.

"It's not just an eastside problem or a westside problem," DeGarmo said. "The numbers range across the district. Virtually every school has some kids listed as homeless."

Comments

Emily Hadley 7 years, 2 months ago

It's reassuring to see a focus on the extent of homelessness. So, so many people have to deal with housing & economic issues or crises at one time or another, and sometimes it seems that we are not empathetic as a city, and that our perception of homelessness is just not accurate. It's not black and white, and many of the people in Lawrence without long-term housing are not pigeon-holed as homeless.

Like they say, recognizing the problem is the first step, so this attention is already a move in the right direction.

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