A place to learn, no place to live
Poverty is the real outrage--
and the one our corporate politicos
By Patrice Releford
In her spotless white shoes, blue and tan
uniform and pink backpack, Rachel Brown, 8,
peered down S. 3rd Street in downtown
Minneapolis at several approaching school buses
As 8:15 a.m. turned to 8:30 a.m. and then 8:45
a.m., the third-grader's smile disappeared as
she began to worry.
"Our bus should have been here," she said to
Finally, it pulled up -- two hours late -- in
front of Rachel's home, a 100-room shelter
called People Serving People.
As Twin Cities area schools opened their doors,
Rachel's journey back to class was a reminder
that a growing number of students don't have
In Minneapolis, teachers have recently been
trained to watch for students who hoard food or
wear the same outfit for several days, both
signs of homelessness.
"There are too many [homeless] kids to deny
that this is real," said Elizabeth Hinz,
Minneapolis public schools' liaison to homeless
and highly mobile students.
Minneapolis estimates that about 5,500 of its
35,000 students -- about one out of six -- are
homeless or lack permanent housing at some
point during the school year.
That's up 18 percent over the year before.
The number has been steadily rising in
Minneapolis: 3,239 were homeless in 2002.
Similar increases are reported nationally.
"We're definitely seeing reports of school
districts that are seeing increases," said
Barbara Duffield, policy director for the
National Association for the Education of
Homeless Children and Youth in Washington. She
said the Chicago district, more than 10 times
the size of Minneapolis', experienced a 35
percent increase from 2002 to 2007.
Duffield said Minneapolis is one of the best
districts nationally for screening students for
Hinz said roughly 80 percent of Minneapolis'
homeless kids spend at least part of the year
in local shelters, while others jump between
motels, homes of friends or relatives and other
St. Paul and suburban districts, including
Rosemount-Apple-Valley-Eagan, also reported
increases in homelessness and mobility.
Since 1987, U.S. school districts have been
required to remove barriers that prevent
homeless or mobile students from consistently
attending school. For Minneapolis, however,
making sure students aren't jumping from school
to school -- or missing it altogether -- takes
on even more importance because that kind of
instability undermines the district's efforts
to educate them.
"For homeless kids, the whole point is to keep
them in the same school," Hinz said. "We're
identifying more kids and ensuring their
Recent achievement data indicate that homeless
students are more likely to fall behind than
other low-income students, she said.
Minneapolis' 2008 MCA-II reading test scores
for third-graders showed that 69 percent of
homeless and mobile students did not reach
proficient levels on the exam, compared with 63
percent of other low-income students.
"This can be a horrendous experience, but you
can't ever look at that and say they're lost,"
Hinz said. "The challenge for us as adults is
to help boost their resilience."
Tracking down students
Traces of Rachel's excitement about school were
visible as she bolted from the front door of
the shelter to catch her bus. Rachel attends
Sojourner Truth Academy in north Minneapolis, a
K-6 charter school that she also attended last
Josephine Brown, who has three sons ages 3, 6
and 11, moved into People Serving People in
late August when she found out the North Side
apartment she intended to move into had a bad
She said she lost a $1,000 deposit to the
landlord, who has not returned her calls or her
money. Their former apartment building had been
foreclosed upon. Living in a shelter "is an
option I didn't want to take, but they have
good resources here," Brown said.
The Minneapolis schools have three shelter-
based staff members who work at 17 local
facilities, including People Serving People and
Mary's Place, also in downtown Minneapolis.
They spent weeks this summer making sure
students at shelters, hotels and other
temporary housing situations were registered
for classes and arranging for bus or cab rides
to their new or former schools, school supplies
and other federally mandated assistance.
Last spring the district used its Title I funds
for low-income students to train 12 district
social workers to be the primary contact for
homeless and mobile students. Those social
workers have trained teachers to discretely
question students who show signs of an unstable
'Their home school'
When a parent makes a request to keep their
child in his or her original school, districts
are required to comply if it's feasible.
"Even though their life is disrupted, the
ability to go back to their home school is
important," said Jim Minor, president and CEO
of People Serving People, which houses up to
350 people and has been at or near its capacity
for the past year. More than half of the
residents are children.
Shelter officials said homeless children from
around the Twin Cities move to Minneapolis
because it has more shelter facilities than
other areas. St. Paul and suburban districts
said unstable incomes, foreclosures on rental
properties and other economic forces have also
taken a toll on more families in their district
in recent years.
"They move wherever they can find a place to
live," said Ann Kern, Osseo School District's
student support services assistant director.
"It's shelters, hotels or they're doubled up
[with relatives or family friends]."
Becky Hicks, St. Paul's homeless coordinator,
said more than 16 percent of St. Paul's
homeless students move to Minneapolis but still
attend their home schools. Hicks said the
population of homeless students in both
districts is fluid, with students moving
between the cities and suburbs.
"It doesn't matter that there's a river between
us," she said. "They're all our kids."
Last week, Brown said she was working with an
advocate at People Serving People to find a
safe, well-maintained apartment. She hopes to
move out of the shelter next month.
Meanwhile, Rachel's education appears to be on
track. During a math lesson last week at
Sojourner Truth, she raised her hand several
times and gave correct answers.
Principal Julie Guy said about 90 percent of
its students receive free or reduced-price
meals. About a half-dozen students live in
shelters or other temporary housing. So staff
members keep their eyes open for stress-related
behavioral problems or related academic issues.
"I try to be sensitive to the fact that they're
in transition mode," said Amy Wanggaard,
Rachel's teacher. "They know their desk is
theirs. Sometimes there's not a lot of
ownership if they're in a shelter or move
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES