More than a million students nationwide are homeless.
Children who lack a permanent or stable household is an important yet, perhaps, overlooked issue and that’s true in the St. Louis area where several thousand students do not have a permanent home.
The number of homeless students in Missouri has doubled over the past five years. As St. Louis Public Radio’s Tim Lloyd reported in a two-part series earlier this month, in just the St. Louis Public Schools, 3,500 children do not have a permanent home.
It’s an issue that impacts a student’s life both personally and educationally but it also puts a financial burden on schools. Federal law dictates that students who lose their home still have a right to continue attending their original school, even if their temporary shelter is outside the district. When that occurs, school districts are still responsible for providing transportation, which amounts to about $2 million per year for the St. Louis Public School District.
Host Don Marsh talked with Deidra Thomas-Murray, Homeless Coordinator in the St. Louis Public School District, Vince Estrada, Director of Student Services with the Maplewood Richmond Heights School District, and Yolanda Rodgers-Garvin, a social worker with the Ferguson-Florissant School District. They addressed the problems of homelessness and the challenges to both the students and school districts.
Part of the discussion included the term “homeless.” When working with students and families, school district personnel try to use the term “in transition” rather than “homeless.”
Thomas-Murray explained, “I experienced homelessness firsthand by way of Hurricane Katrina. I had children and my children were teased, they were ridiculed. They experienced some emotional trauma, not just from Katrina, but from their peers. So it’s an effort to try and reduce the stigmas and all the other stuff that comes along with homelessness, because typically people just view homelessness as people walking around pushing a cart or they’re dirty and that’s not always the case. I think for emotional health, mental health, we try to move toward that term ‘in transition.’”
A practical reason for being careful about semantics is to encourage more students and families who are in transition to come forward and avail themselves of the services a school district can offer.
Frequently, teachers, counselors and administrators have to use detective skills to identify students who need help. The first “St. Louis on the Air” caller, Blake, illustrated the issue. He described how he initially tried to hide his homelessness, but when he finally admitted it, was able to get help. He then urged school district personnel to watch for warning signs in their students such as habitually falling asleep in class, excessive tardiness and a previously good student having trouble completing homework, among others.
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