Columbus Homeless School Children Increasing
The Dispatch did a nice piece this week on the rise in students who become homeless during the school year. Cleveland had an incredible increase in students in the 2007 to 2008 school year, but we have small increases over the past year. The number of students in Ohio has increased by 70% since 2006. The stats from the school district are a valuable tool to look at homelessness in the community. They do not depend on the number of shelter beds like the homeless stats released by HUD do. The definition is broad, but easily understandable compared to the definition used by HUD. And every school district is using the same definition for the past 20 years, and they all must submit data for the school year to the state of Ohio. The numbers listed in the report in the Columbus Dispatch for Cleveland are different from the numbers I have for the district. They list 1,123 homeless students for Cleveland, but the graph does not indicate what time frame this is for. I have 2,275 homeless children from July 2010 to January 2011 within the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. I have 2,567 for the 2009 to 2010 school year (July 2009 to June 2010).
But the story does show the huge growth in homeless children in Columbus. I think that it points to the problem that many cities took their eye off the ball for the past six years especially Columbus. They focused all their money and staffing on working on long term homeless people and the other programs withered on the vine without a safety net. Instead of trying to solve homelessness for everyone and trying to reduce the population across the board, they put all their money on one sub-group thus making other sub-groups see their resources decrease and numbers grow. There is so much pent up demand for housing, jobs, and social services that if you put all your cities resources on one population, all the other groups needing help grows. Also, if you pay attention only to shelter numbers and the count that HUD does every year, you miss trends in the community. There are a limited number of shelter beds in the community, and we do not create new beds based on increasing demand. So, if the family population grows because more people are out of work, the shelters are often the last to know about this trend. The schools are often the first to know about what is happening with families.
The story on 60 Minutes two weeks ago about homelessness in Florida had a similar message. We should pay more attention to the numbers from the schools. They say a great deal about trends and issues facing the homeless populations. It was interesting that the Dispatch quoted a Groveport school official who said that January and February are the worst times for a rise in homeless children. That is not my experience, which shows a sharp increase in homelessness in May and June after school lets out, but that is not something that the schools would be able to track. The other piece of information not in the article is the near collapse of the Cincinnati Homeless Child and Youth project. This was one of the premiere school programs in the United States until a couple of years ago, and it has fallen on hard times with massive budget cuts. There was a scathing report about the Cincinnati school districts efforts to meet the requirements to get children re-rolled within 24 hours of their family becoming homeless.
We should mention the fantastic program we have in Cleveland, and the massive undertaking of serving all the Cleveland Metropolitan School District children. Project ACT does a great job in serving all the children living in shelters or on sofas throughout the community. If a child's family falls into homelessness and the child was a student of CMSD or migrated to Cleveland to seek shelter, we can be assured that the staff at Project ACT will move heaven and earth to get that child back into school. They will cut through the bureaucracy to get them back into their school of origin or place them in a new school if that is what the parent wants for their child. It is a huge undertaking, but Project ACT has always done a great job with this transitory population. During the time of homelessness, which must seem like a hurricane hitting the family to a child, it is nice to have the stability of school for the young person.
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