A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Breaking down big picture of Education: Homeless families — what educators see; how to support

Education is vital to the success of our region, our residents and our workforce. The following is the fourth in a series of articles on the importance of education in Northern Kentucky. The series is produced by the Advancing the Big Picture Coalition of the Northern Kentucky Education Council. Each article will focus on a particular aspect of education, will provide data and information from the community and its leaders and will end with a call to action.

Homelessness has significant, lasting impacts on children and youth. Homeless students experience greater school mobility, often causing interruptions in their education. They also experience greater chronic absenteeism (missing about 18 days per year or more). All these things affect a student’s school achievement and graduation rate. The Kentucky Department of Education identified 3,083 homeless students in the 6-county region during the last school year.

This includes families who are doubled up, living in hotels, or living in cars. It also includes homeless youth who turn 18 and are not living with a parent or guardian, called unaccompanied youth. All NKY school districts see the children and youth affected by a transition or homelessness and strive to make the child feel safe and secure while supporting family members during their housing crisis and beyond.

Why are so many families homeless?

Housing costs are increasing in Northern Kentucky while wages are not keeping up; minimum wage is only $7.25 per hour. Many jobs in Northern Kentucky are paying below the wages needed to pay rent. Utility costs are also rising, leaving families housing cost-burdened and making housing unaffordable for the low-wage worker and his/her family. Affordable rental units are also in short supply as compared to the number of low-income households who need them. Once homeless, the cost to get into a unit includes a deposit (typically equal to one month’s rent) and first month’s rent. Often a family has to find furniture and household items because they didn’t have a way to move or store their belongings. It’s tough to get ahead enough to get back on track, even when you have a job. (Source: National Low Income Housing Coalition, “Out of Reach 2019: Kentucky.”

Homeward Bound in NKY

As the Northern Kentucky Homelessness Work Group recently reported, Northern Kentucky saw 829 households experience unsheltered homelessness between July 2018 and June 2019. 332 or 40% of those households included children.

What’s Happening in Northern Kentucky?

• McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act extends protection to any child who does not have a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. It also protects unaccompanied youth. This Act gives homeless children the right to stay in the same school or enroll in a new school. Homeless children also have a right to receive transportation to their home school and they must have access to all programs and services for which they are eligible. Contact your local school district for more information related to your district about how they assist with educational support services. All School Districts have a person identified to help homeless children and youth. They can also tap into each school’s Family Resource or Youth Service Center to provide help to families.

• Families in Transition – Erlanger Elsmere Schools provides educational support services for students experiencing homeless and for unaccompanied youth. Providing resources such as food, transportation, after school programs, and rent/deposit assistance helps prevent and end homelessness for their students. Call 859-727-2009.

• Homeward Bound Shelter – Brighton Center provides emergency shelter (room and board) for youth ages 11-17. A priority is to ensure any youth residing at Homeward Bound attends their home school. Parents/guardians are able to visit and participate in counseling to ensure the child feels safe and supported during their transition. Street Outreach Services can also go to a homeless youth and provide services on-site. Call 859-581-1111.

National Center for Homeless Education logo

• Welcome House provides services for individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Services include outreach, stability services, and access to housing. Call 859- 431-8717.

Homelessness Can Happen to Anyone

A Northern Kentucky mom fled a domestic violence situation with her two daughters (6- and 16-years-old). They were able to obtain housing, but she was experiencing many barriers due to past abuse, low credit, past eviction, and a single income. She was able to find housing and made the difficult choice to move into a rental situation that would stretch her budget to its limit. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many families who are transitioning out of housing instability; housing choices are limited, and families will often take the first option that comes available out of desperation. Her family moved in, but because the rent was unaffordable, they ultimately lost this housing.
The mom decided to reach out for help and started at her daughter’s school. She was able to connect with housing support through the school and Brighton Center’s Tenant-Based Rental Assistance program which provided her the opportunity to find stable supportive housing.

NCHE photo

With the immediate crisis of housing instability dealt with, she continues to work with Brighton Center on her long-term goals of finishing her degree and finding a career in a field that provides stable wages for herself and her family. Now that she is stably housed, she is using her tax return to pay off a school loan so she can graduate!

What can you do? Help identify and support homeless children and youth. Listen to them and respond when they say something is wrong. Reach out to the resources above to connect a family to services, particularly mental health care for youth.

What can your business do? Become a Safe Place site so young people have someplace to go when they feel unsafe. There are over 150 sites within the community with trained volunteers. Youth are connected immediately to safe and supportive services. Call Homeward Bound Shelter for more information at 859-581-1111.

What can our community do?
Stop children and youth from becoming homeless in the first place and act swiftly to get them stably housed when they do. Through prevention and diversion strategies, we can quickly identify youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness, assess individual needs, and connect children and youth with appropriate interventions as rapidly as possible. We can increase the number of housing options, resources, and supportive services in our region to serve children and youth who are experiencing or at risk for homelessness. Encourage your local city and county representatives to develop affordable housing policy so we have housing available for our low-wage households.

Support Youth Transition to Successful Adulthood

For youth to never return to homelessness, we must ensure they have access to resources and experiences that will help them succeed and develop a sense of belonging, including education, employment, and community-based activities. Using positive after-school programs, connections to caring adults, and engaging community activities we can provide opportunities for youth to build their resiliency to overcome obstacles. Let’s make sure every youth who graduates from high school has a viable plan for their next steps.

The Big Picture Coalition of the Northern Kentucky Education Council

Featured photo: From Florida’s Council o Homelessness annual report

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