Kids and homelessness: An issue that’s hard to see

  • perkins, nancy

    perkins, nancy

  • perkins, nancy

This past spring the case manager and the board president of the Monadnock Area Transitional Shelter, known as MATS, attended a meeting at ConVal High School to learn more about the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. The following is a synopsis of that meeting.

When trying to identify a child who might be homeless, school personnel look for several red flags: frequent absences; incomplete homework; fatigue; poor hygiene, listening to their stories; even seeing the same clothing that might not be well-kept; an inadequate night time address because the student might be sharing a home with other families, living in a car, motel or camp ground. In some cases, a student might be homeless because he or she is awaiting foster care placement, may be a runaway who leaves because of abuse at home, may be forced out of a home because of pregnancy, or just because he or she turned 18. Our readers may recall that one of our guests several years ago fell into the last category; we gave him shelter so that he could finish his senior year at ConVal.

Each year in the United States, 1.34 million children are homeless. Statistics have shown that 10 percent of all children living in poverty will be likely to experience homelessness at some point in their young lives. The increase in family homelessness is leading to an epidemic of homeless children with about 60 percent of those being children over the age of five.

Results from a point-in-time count show the scope of the issue at ConVal: in the 2009-10 school year, 41 children were homeless; in 2010-11, the number dropped to 31, but in 2011-12, it jumped to 51. Throughout the state of New Hampshire, between the school years 2008-2009, the 2,132 students identified as homeless rose to 3,306 in 2011-2012.

Reasons for homelessness vary, but often it is caused by a shortage of affordable housing; this is true in Hillsborough County. Forty-four percent of people who are homeless are unemployed. As of 2009, the minimum wage in New Hampshire is $7.25 per hour, while the poverty guideline for a family of two is $14,570. Even some people working a 40-hour week earn only $15,000 per year, or $1,160 per month, while the average rent in our county is $1,022 per month. Staggering statistics!

In addition to needing a roof over their heads at night, those who are homeless face many challenges. Children especially fear the loss of what is familiar, like family, friends, their homes, even their particular seat at school. They may witness violence at home or be victims of abuse themselves. For them, school may seem to be home because of familiar faces and security.

The state now requires that each school district appoints a liaison to ensure that students suspected of being homeless will be enrolled immediately if they are not already, and that they and their families have access to helpful services. This program promotes stability, eliminates any barriers, finds tutors when needed, and locates free backpacks and free school supplies. The liaison makes certain that the children get free meals for which they are eligible during the school year. This program ensures complete confidentiality on all levels. Children in a homeless situation may suffer academically, psychologically and/or socially; often it takes four to six months for them to feel stability and recover academically. Many of these children may have learning disabilities as well as emotional disturbances.

It is our hope that through this new program, children will learn the skills and support needed to avoid poverty and homelessness as adults.

Note: MATS received 12 calls for shelter this past month, mostly from single mothers with children, but also from one single dad with a child. In addition, two calls came from the welfare officers in Peterborough and Concord.

Nancy Perkins of Peterborough and Hope Pettegrew of Hancock are former board members but remain volunteers for MATS. MATS is a member of The River Center on Concord Street. We are a transitional shelter, not an emergency shelter.

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