During a recent St. Louis Public School District’s monthly Superintendent’s Clergy Breakfast, the Office of Students-in-Transition received a large winter donation, including coats, gloves, hats, clothing, heaters, gift cards and money from over 100 area congregations.
“This donation is a blessing for our students and their families,” said Deidra Thomas-Murray, SLPS Homeless Coordinator and Foster Care Liaison for the “Students-In-Transition” program.
The program provides day-to-day services under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, ensuring that homeless children are able to attend school.
Thomas-Murray, a former social worker from New Orleans who provided foster care for more than 178 children during her tenure, arrived in St. Louis homeless by way of Hurricane Katrina, and learned firsthand the struggles and frustration of students and their parents when it came to enrolling students. Because of this, she brings life to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, advocating for the rights of homeless children and unaccompanied youth.
“Many students and their families do not know that they are homeless by definition and eligible for state and federal services. I work with congregations, shelters and other organizations to spread the word about our services,” she said.
According to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, homeless children are defined as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” More specifically, homeless services are provided to:
(a) Children sharing housing due to economic hardship or loss of housing
(b) Children living in “motels, hotels, trailer parks, or campgrounds due to lack of alternative accommodations”
(c) Children living in “emergency or transitional shelters”
(d) Children “awaiting foster care placement”
(e) Children whose primary nighttime residence is not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (e.g. park benches, etc.)
(f) Children living in “cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, etc.”
(g)Migrant children who meet the above mentioned criteria.
Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, homeless students are guaranteed the following rights:
- To maintain attendance at the school of origin (if this is in the child's best interest), or enroll in the local school where currently residing;
- To receive transportation;
- To receive free meals;
- To receive assistance obtaining needed records and documentation;
- To receive support services and programs for which they are eligible, such as gifted education, children with disabilities, vocational education, and preschool;
- To receive academic assistance through the district's federally funded Title I program;
- To have parent or guardian involvement in school activities; and
- To maintain enrollment in the current school for the remainder of the school year (with transportation assistance, if needed).
One of the hardest areas to reach, and possibly the largest “at-risk” group, is the student population known as unaccompanied youth. An unaccompanied youth, as recognized by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, is a student not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.
This would include youth living in runaway shelters, abandoned buildings, cars, on the streets, or in other inadequate housing and children and youth denied housing by their families (sometimes referred to as “throwaway” children and youth), and school-age unwed mothers, living in homes for unwed mothers, who have no other housing available. In addition, children who have a parent or parents become incarcerated during the school year also qualify for services under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Act.