EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a series looking at homelessness in Madison County. The first part appeared in the Wednesday, Nov. 27, edition of The Register. The third and final part appears in the Saturday/Weekend edition.
In Madison County, homelessness is an ongoing issue that hurts not only adults, but children of all ages. Many may be unaware of the extent of homelessness in this area of the resources available to help families in need. The first source of assistance and guidance for families facing homelessness is likely the Family Resource and Youth Services Centers (FRYSC) for individual schools in the area.
Classification as Homeless
Something the FRYSC directors all noted is that many people do not fully understand the term "homeless." Cathy Mosier, FRC assistant at B. Michael Caudill Middle School, said that when people hear the word "homelessness" they tend to think of a child living on the street with no place to sleep.
Ashley Taylor, North Madison Family Resource Director, stated "this is typically not the case" in schools. "Most children considered homeless are living with relatives or friends," Taylor added.
Sean Quinlan, youth services center director at Madison Southern High School, said that each year, he sees a few cases of homelessness. He also said most of those are considered homeless due to living with friends or family members other than their parents.
According to the McKinney-Vento Act, living in a car, park, abandoned building, motel, campground or in a friend's home are a few examples of situations that might classify a child as homeless.
Amy Carmichael, Director of the FRC at Kirksville Elementary, mentioned some of the challenges that kids can face when they are technically classified as homeless. These children might not be living "on the street" per se, but it still impacts their lives and their education.
"Even couch-surfing is hard on kids. It's tough not having a routine, not knowing where you'll be staying from one night to the next," Carmichael said.
Causes of Homelessness in Students
Quinlan stated, "In the high school, a frequent scenario we see is youth aging out of foster care and wanting to stay in our community, but having limited resources. Often times these students 'couch surf' for as long as they can." Another primary cause he observes is the need to escape from domestic violence.
"There are many factors that affect homelessness," Taylor added. "No education leads to low paying jobs or no job, no transportation to a job, drug addiction, mental illness and more. It takes months for people to get into government housing and the wait can sometimes be up to two years. Also, sometimes people who do have a job make too much to qualify for government housing but not enough to cover housing and all of the other bills."
Resources for the Homeless
The McKinney-Vento Act provides certain protections and rights to school-age children experiencing homelessness. For example, they must receive a free, appropriate public education. This may even involve immediate enrollment despite a lack of legal documents typically required to enroll in school. Transportation and educational services may also be provided to a child who is homeless.
Madison County students have their local schools to provide help. Quinlan stated that when families come to the FRYSC for assistance, "We offer information on local helping organizations for food and clothing. We offer information to help them look for stable housing. We inform parents of local employment opportunities."
"We try to listen to the needs of each family and help them overcome barriers on a case by case situation," Quinlan explained. "Because we do not have a local shelter in Berea, often times, we have to refer students/families to the Salvation Army in Richmond."
This may be somewhat helped by the Room in the Inn program, which is preparing for its second winter of operation in Berea.
"Some of the services the FRC can provide is the backpack food program, help with needs of the student (clothing, school supplies, etc.), and addressing the specific needs of that family," noted Taylor. "Do they need help with a job? Do they need help in knowing what to do to apply for housing? Do they need help with drug addiction?"
Carmichael said, "We really are in a district-wide effort to identify students who may be struggling with homelessness."
The FRYSC Directors in Madison County work together to assist one another in serving the children to the best of their ability.
FRYSC employees emphasized that families in need should contact the FRYSC director of the student's school. Those directors will then be able to contact the student's family to figure out the best next steps.
"We're very blessed that in FRYSC we communicate well with each other," Carmichael said. "We want to serve as many kids as we can."