Hazard Independent Schools was recently awarded a grant to help out the nearly 13 percent of their students that are federally classified as being homeless.
In all, 13 Kentucky schools will be receiving the $65,000 Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Program grant to help combat the issue of homelessness in schools. The 13 schools selected show a diverse and widespread group of schools from across the state. Ashland Independent, Bullitt County, Christian County, Covington Independent, Cumberland County, Eminence Independent, Fayette County, Greenup County, Hazard Independent, Henderson County, Jefferson County, Knott County, Newport Independent, Paducah Independent, Pike County and Whitley County will all be taking part in this grant.
While homelessness has been a problem for school-aged children in Perry County for several years, school officials have said that they believe the problem is getting worse because of the onslaught of drug addiction over the last couple of decades.
Homelessness on the federal level is not strictly defined as a student living on the streets or in a shelter, but it can include any student living with a non-legal guardian. This can include a student living with his or her parents in the home of another family member, or a student living with a grandparent or other relative.
Hazard Superintendent Sandra Johnson said that one of the most difficult things is how many students are living with great-grandparents. This often means that the student is being raised by someone who could be too old to really take care of the child.
According to the application turned into the state by Hazard school authorities, they have identified key areas where homeless students tend to suffer. Many of the students deal with issues like lack of transportation, attendance, lack of immunizations, homework support, and nutrition. These can lead to problems like obesity, poor health and hygiene, abuse and neglect, and behavioral and educational issues.
Even if a student is in a good caring home, if the adult in the home is not a legal guardian there can be difficulties with simple things like signing waivers for school and getting health records.
“If they are with a non-custodial adult, then even getting immunizations can be difficult,” said Johnson.
Currently, Hazard Independent has 129 students classified as being homeless. This is a huge number for a school district of only around 1,000 students, though Johnson said that this number could be low. Under-reporting of homelessness is something that the school has experienced before since students and parents don’t want to be negatively labeled.
This is something that the school hopes to correct with this grant. The district will be hiring a homeless liaison for each of their schools that will act as a communication link between students and families, and the school. This liaison will help families make contact with family services and work at finding students housing.
Currently, district officials have to rely on rumors, along with officially registered guardians and addresses to determine students’ official homeless status. This limits the amount of help that can be offered. The jobs of the liaison will be to help compile as accurate a list as possible by helping the families to feel more comfortable asking for help.
“They will establish contacts with an adult that has taken charge of these kids,” said Johnson.
The grant also allocates money for helping to fix gaps in health and education caused by dealing with homelessness. This money can also go toward health screenings held at the school, home visits to check on the children, nutrition education, assisting families to achieve GED or literacy classes, and expanding after school activities to help engage the student in school. Johnson noted that increasing students’ opportunities for school activities could in turn keep students enrolled in classes rather than dropping out.
“Usually, if they are involved in an activity they are much more likely to stay in school,” said Johnson.
Though the grant will only be guaranteed for the next three years, Johnson is hopeful for what it will be able to accomplish for their students.