How you can help students experiencing homelessness

October 22, 2019

Do you know the most urgent need of Westerly Hills students experiencing homelessness? Food, shelter and transportation?

I learned this recently from the Communities in Schools counselor responsible for students who are homeless. Her information brought to mind for me Maslow’s hierarchy, and the fact that education will never be the top priority for these children until their needs for food, shelter and transportation are met.

As Communities in Schools works with partners in the school and community to navigate these stressful circumstances, we can show our love and make the lives of these students little easier by offering food and transportation support.

In our discussion, I learned that 21 children at Westerly Hills Academy have been identified so far as either homeless or displaced. Efforts are being made to reconcile the community’s work with that of the school, to ensure all affected families are included. Challenges such as poor student attendance and changing contact information unfortunately impede the process and create delays. While recent news has been focused on the Lake Arbor situation, it is important to remember that other families at the school are struggling with eviction and homelessness due to the lack of affordable housing in our city; therefore, we have decided to include them in our efforts, as well.

We are fortunate to work with partners at the school who know the families and children affected. They are able to assess needs and distribute items to families and children as emergencies arise. Some families are living at shelters, some in cars, some in hotels and others with friends or families who could fit them into a spare room. With the varying circumstances, the needs are different due primarily to storage and transportation limitations.

FPC has decided to respond in the following manner:  to address immediate needs, our youth provided large care packages of food, toiletries and blankets to families in cars and temporary housing, as well as gas cards for families who would benefit from them. For families with limited storage and/or no transportation, FPC has provided emergency food bags and toiletry bags that can be sent home with students as needed.

We will conduct a special collection for the most urgent needs of food and transportation gift cards, which you can access here.  For families living in their cars or who have found temporary housing outside of the school district, gas cards are helpful for getting children to and from school. (CMS will ultimately provide transportation as required through the McKinney Vento Act, but the transition takes time. Gas cards prevent a lapse in school attendance.) For families with no transportation, bus vouchers and Uber gift cards are best.

FPC’s new program, Shop to Share, is a monthly opportunity to support children, families and staff at our partners, Westerly Hills Academy and Lakewood Preschool. Through this program, we will work to build and maintain a supply of seasonal needed items. The current signup includes coats, winter uniforms and toiletry items that will also benefit Lake Arbor/homeless families at the school.

Temporary affordable housing is still the most critical need.  If you or someone you know is in a position to help, please reach out to Shantiqua Neely, our Director of Outreach and Mission.  Please remember these families in your prayers!

~Heather Herring, Child & Family Partnership Coordinator