Homeless school children population surging in Maryland as economy continues to struggle

An in-depth look into Maryland's homeless students

BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. - Making faces in a funhouse mirror on a playground are the types of moments with her daughter Angela locks away, because with her five year old, they are beginning to happen less and less.

"She's actually changed so much that she is actually getting mean, you know what I mean? It has already done a toll on her. I don't even know what else to expect out of it."

There are few expectations when you're homeless.

Angela and her daughter became homeless more than a year ago.

Angela is educated, held a job and had a home in Dundalk; until the economy, bad luck and worse times

She considered herself lucky now for the bottoms of two bunk beds in a common dorm; fortunate not to be on floor mats like so many others here at the Eastern Family Resource center in East Baltimore County.

"I had a dream about getting a home," Brandy told us, "Mommy said that we would get a home tomorrow or today or something. It just hurts me when I be in a shelter and stuff because I don't like being in here."

The shelter is hardly the home they knew, but it is home for now; lessons in hard times shared by more and more children every day.

There are more than thirteen thousand homeless school children in the state.

In the last six school years, the homeless student population nearly doubled in Maryland, the worst of it in the last three years as the economy dove and the housing bubble burst.

"I believe, we haven't hit the bottom of it yet," said Maryland's State Coordinator for Homeless Education William Cohee.

Dr. Cohee is in charge of coordinating all of Maryland's school districts to comply with what's called the McKinney-Vento Act, a federal directive that pushes to 'remove all barriers' for homeless students.

In Baltimore County where the district's homeless population continues to soar, the system removes those barriers by providing meals to homeless students along with clothes, school supplies and tutoring sessions at county shelters; teachers now going where more and more children are.

But for nearly all districts, complying with the law means transportation to the student's original school before they became homeless.

Last year Maryland spent nearly nine times the amount of grant money it gets for transporting these students, stretching an already tight budget to provide often the only stability for a growing generation adrift.

"It's gonna put a lot of burden on decision makers to find what money they can, to make program offerings as efficient as humanly possible. It's going to be a big, big deal," warns Cohee.

One of those decision makers is Carl Love.

"We're not sure what the funding is going to be for this year but it's critical."

Love is the Baltimore County Liaison for homeless education.

His office has to patch together whatever money he can find from year to year as the problem only continues to get worse.

"Soon as they walk through the classroom doors, they are bringing a lot of emotional issues with them and we want to make it as successful for them as it can be," said Love.

The federal government defines homelessness as lacking a fixed and adequate night time residence.

For about 75 percent of the homeless student population in Maryland, that means doubling and tripling up with family.

The other 25 percent are spread throughout the state in motels like the ones along route 40 in Baltimore city and in homeless shelters."

[Is this a problem we're just not talking about with the economy?] Yes, absolutely, said Monisha Cherayil with the Public Justice Center, "I think it's a problem we are not talking about because we don't necessarily see it's there."

Cherayil is with the Public Justice Center and litigates cases making sure school districts are in compliance with the federal law on homelessness.

Keeping a homeless child in their same school and offering proactive programs like Baltimore County may be expensive, but the pay off studies show, is marked in higher test scores and graduation rates.

"It really ends up making a difference to these kids who have the benefit of school stability and support so that school can be a place of opportunity even as they are experiencing trauma and instability at home."

The homeless shelters are often the last stop on the daily bus route.

Second Homeless Family Profiled

It is a long school day but Angela says the stability of seeing old friends and classmates does help her daughter giving her a fighting chance to let her dream.

 

"My mom has a key on her purse, its hello kitty and that's gonna be for my room and I always wanted that," the five year old told us as she showed us the key.

"It's right here."

Still uncut, waiting for a lock to a door, to a room of her own, to a home.

"For a five year old you don't know what's going through their head all the time because they don't tell ya," said her mother Angela, "Her telling you about the key, it just makes me upset. It means I got to try harder."

Reporter's Notebook

More Facts about Homeless School Children:

The numbers of homeless children kept by the state are slightly different than the stats kept by the Public Justice Center.  The state says some children were counted more than once as they moved into other school districts.  Currently the state has the total at just more than 10 thousand, but all agree those numbers are set to rise again with the completeion of the '10-'11 school year.

Either way, Maryland's homeless student population puts the state right in the middle of the pack when compared nationally.

By far, California, New York and Florida lead the pack, but experts say since the economic crisis, every state's numbers have risen.

Studies show that for every move a child's family makes while homeless sets the student back four to six months in their education. The studies also show 23 percent of them repeat grades and less than 25 percent of them graduate.

Experts say it is these statistics that make the efforts to stabilize that student population ever more important.

Local educators say they almost always see an increase in homeless students right after holiday breaks.

Funding:

Maryland receives just more than one million dollars to fund efforts in homeless education. That money is then split between all the school districts leaving local districts to get creative.

For example, Baltimore County got about 64 thousand of that money last year but combined it with Title 1 funds and stimulus money to raise the total to just under 300 thousand dollars.

Next year there will be no more stimulus money putting some districts in a crunch.

State officials say while the McKinney-Vento Act creates a mandate, it has been flat funded for several years.

At the very least, each district must provide the option and transportation for a homeless child to attend his or her original school regardless of new location.

As noted in our story, Maryland spent about nine million dollars transporting homeless children against just more than one million received from the government.

How you can help:

School districts can always use volunteers for their programs aimed at homeless school children.  You can call your school district to find out how you can help.

If you would like to donate to the shelter featured in our story, you can do so by reaching out to the Community Assistance Network, 9100 Franklin Square Drive Baltimore, MD 21237.

You can also call the shelter at 410.780.7404 for a list of supplies it needs donated.



 

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