School districts can offer support to students with unstable housing
The U.S. Department of Education defines homeless youth as young people who lack a fixed, regular and nighttime residence.
That classification can include households where a pair of families reside in the same structure, not by choice but by necessity, said Dr. Brannon Johnson, Director of Counseling curriculum and federal programs at the Picayune School District. It can also include students who are temporarily living in a hotel or a shelter or on the street, Johnson said. The number can also include unaccompanied teenagers, said Poplarville School District assistant superintendent Konya Miller.
Unstable living situations place a heavy strain on children and their families, said Picayune School District Assistant Superintendent Brent Harrell.
“Most of the time, these students have an issue with purchasing uniforms and supplies and so we have three social workers who work with those families,” said Harrell.
For the last 30 years, the Picayune School District has employed social workers to work with parents one on one, as well as provide parents with a list of resources, Johnson said. The social workers have even helped parents find jobs.
Those positions are funded through Title 1 grants, and the District employs counselors using District funds, Harrell said.
In the Picayune School District, there are 37 homeless students out of 3,133 students enrolled as of Thursday, Johnson said.
“I think it’s important that the community realize that there are homeless individuals within the Picayune School District and that the Picayune School District helps use its resources to serve those individuals,” Harrell said.
Hurricanes increase the number of displaced students, because people come to the county from areas along the coast and stay with family or friends or in hotels, Harrell said.
In the Poplarville School District, there are approximately five students currently considered homeless, said Miller. That number fluctuates depending on the school year, Miller said, but at times there have been as many as 25 homeless students. Poplarville School District employees work to ensure students have everything they need for school, Miller said, such as uniforms and personal care items. Sometimes supporting students who lack a permanent residence would entail helping them obtain a copy of their birth certificate, or making sure the student has access to their immunization records, Miller said. The District also works with families to make sure they have adequate transportation to school, Miller said.
“In the Poplarville area there are no hotels, so say they have to stay in a hotel that’s not in our District, we’ll sit down in a meeting to see what’s the best route to keep them enrolled,” Miller said.
The biggest challenge in providing support is knowing what the needs are, Miller said.
“We try to make sure that all of our front office people know and that everybody across the District recognize the signs of homelessness,” Miller said. “When a kid’s giving those clues to their needs, we speak up and advocate for them and make sure we check on them.”
When a child is classified as homeless, they are allowed to remain in their original school district, wherever they may reside during the transition, said Pearl River County School District Superintendent Alan Lumpkin. Each campus has a uniform closet available to any student who needs help with clothing, Lumpkin said, and he encourages all students and all parents who need assistance outside of academics—whether they need support for their physical, emotional or social well being—to contact their school or the District’s administration.
“Your school district role has changed significantly over the years, and your schools today are more than just a place to learn your academics,” said Lumpkin. “Our schools today—we have certified clinical social workers in every school, we have clinical nurses in every school—so it’s more than just the educational part.”
The number of students in the Pearl River County School District classified as homeless was unavailable at press time.