[Editor’s note: This information was supplied by Wallenpaupack Area School District Administration.]

WALLENPAUPACK - A presentation was made to the Wallenpaupack School Board in October, concerning the issue of homelessness among students by Ann Monaghan, who serves as the Homeless Coordinator. The program at the district is undergoing an audit this year, which was the occasion to review information with the school board.

There are currently about seven students who fall under the classification of “homeless.”

The district utilizes the Pennsylvania Education for Children & Youth Experiencing Homelessness (ECYEH) program and the Ensuring Education Stability for Foster care program.

Each school district in the state has a “Homeless Liaison” to serve their homeless kids.

Many ways & “whys”

Data for 2015-2016 showed 72 homeless families in Wayne County and 52 in Pike County. Statewide there were 27,724 students considered “homeless.”

A homeless child is defined as one who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. They may be sharing housing; living in a campground, motel or hotel; living in an emergency or transitional shelter; abandoned at a hospital; living in a car, public space, park, abandoned structure, bus station and the like; or they may be “sofa surfing” which means going from house to house to sleep overnight.

The causes of rural homelessness are many. They include pervasive poverty; few rental options; lack of mental health and drug & alcohol services; inadequate employment; transportation issues; and federal definitions and research that have favored urban homelessness.

Various factors may lead to a youth being unaccompanied. They include deep poverty; family issues; youth who were told to leave or uncaring parents; shelter systems that separate families; having no where to go upon discharge from foster care or mental health placement; and natural disasters.

Rural pros & cons

Some advantages of living in a rural area include one stop locations for multiple agencies that can help; involved and supportive churches and extended family support.

On the other hand, rural communities present challenges: sense of isolation, hidden homelessness, fewer dollars when funding decisions are based on population; less public awareness; local attitudes of denial and blame; and less existing research that applies to unaccompanied youth in a rural area.

Most unaccompanied youth eventually reunite with their family. Safety always needs to be considered, but research shows that all unaccompanied youth can benefit from family intervention and counseling.

Schools cannot require that a family who takes in a student obtain guardianship. This official role can only come from a court.

Improvement needed

Numerous ways to improve the response to youth homelessness were outlined.

Among them were:

There are not enough shelter programs. Communities should ponder alternative ways to house youth, such as a host home or a more flexible shelter system.

Options may be lacking in a rural area.

Family reunification or support should be prioritized as the initial intervention.

Programs interacting with youth can help with youth returning home, when it is safe and appropriate.

Ongoing support after a youth returns home is often needed.

Family intervention could be done earlier to avoid a youth leaving home.

Programs need to accept LGBTQ youth, who may be more vulnerable to family separation.

Homeless youth face risks of death, violence, suicide, drugs, criminal activity and human trafficking.

Some ways to keep unaccompanied youth safe include challenging myths and misconceptions; discussing on-line safety; display of appropriate concern when a student is “missing”; asking non-judgmental questions; and providing access to domestic violence services.

What schools do

Responsibility of schools include:

Allowing homeless students to continue to attend classes and school activities.

Provide transportation if deemed reasonable and in the child’s “best interests.”

Allow a child to be enrolled immediately even without school record, medical records, proof of residency, etc.

If a student lacks immunization or medical records, the liaison must immediately assist in obtaining them. The student will be enrolled without them.

Provide free meals.

Title 1 Homeless Set-Aside monies must be used to support students with academic-related needs.

Wallenpaupack Area High School provides a “Clothing Boutique” in High School Room 240. There is also a food closet in the high school. Appropriate school supplies are available, for the various grades. The district will also provide the homeless student with resources for medical and dental services.

For more information:
PA Department of Education’s Every Student Succeeds Acts web page
Region 7 website, www.liu18.org/index.php/ecyeh
Wallenpaupack Area School District may be reached at 570-226-4557.