Thursday, March 5, 2009

Are there more homeless students in our schools?

Today we wanted to share this article with you from ‘Tidal wave’ of homeless students hits schools.

More and more we have been seeing articles like this one reporting on the rising numbers of family homelessness and homeless children attending public schools.

This article is a great snapshot of what families in Seattle and King County are dealing with right now. First Place is a unique agency which serves the needs of the entire family in their struggle with homelessness and extreme poverty. We decided to take a few of the themes in the article and tell you a little bit more about what that means and how First Place helps children and families with their struggle.

Read the article here.
Learn more about First Place on our website, or by reading our blog profile.

Housing – Family homelessness can be invisible
The article mentions one family living out of a garage, and another which is living with friends. Family homelessness is often invisible to the larger community because many of the families are living in non-traditional places (such as garages) which are not included in a One Night Count. (Learn about the Local and National One Night Counts)

First Place works with parents to move them from emergency shelters and temporary homes (such as a garage, a car, or friends house) and into stable housing. All families enrolled in our services work with a case manager who supports parents on job training and education, job placement, housing, life skills and health needs. First Place also has a limited number of apartment units to house families with school-age children.

Learn more about the invisible homeless in this blog post: Full House: More Families Shackin' Up.

Trauma caused by instability
When children have adult worries such where they will be sleeping and if they will eat dinner, they are not able to concentrate at school, or even sleep at night. The extreme stress and trauma also affects their physical health, their ability to learn, their emotional and social behavior, and cognitive development. Many homeless families are a single parent fleeing domestic violence or abuse which also causes trauma in children. At First Place, we work with children on their social and emotional development. We help them feel they are in a safe and trusted environment and provide counseling and art therapy to help work through this difficult time.

How trauma affects education
Many students attending First Place come to our school two to three grade levels behind their peers in public schools due to the trauma and stress of poverty and homelessness. First Place works on stabilizing the emotional needs of the students and their academic needs. In addition to the school day, many students have a volunteer tutor or mentor who spends one hour a week with the student. We also provide 40 hours of tutoring to students through Knowledge Points. At the end of the 40 hours, students gain an average one grade level in reading or math.

Teasing at school is another trauma that children endure as a result of instability in their lives. At First Place, most of the kids are in the same situation – so teasing about having unbrushed hair or wearing the same clothes every day just doesn’t happen.

Health, nutrition & basic needs
Children and families living in extreme poverty and unstable housing often lack proper nutrition, regular meals and sometimes aren’t able to bath regularly. Stress and trauma breaks down the immune system and especially affects children who become susceptible to colds, flu and more.

First Place has a nurse practitioner on-site to take care of the health needs of the children. We also provide breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack. We also provide school bus transportation to First Place and back to their home in the evening. Throughout the year we provide clothing, shoes and hygiene items. We also work with parents to ensure their living situation supports the daily hygiene and health needs of their family.

Is Seattle seeing a ‘Tidal Wave’ of homeless students?
Answer: It’s hard to tell. First Place called Ruth McFadden, the district homeless liaison for Seattle Public Schools, and learned that most of the calls coming in are from new families and that a lot of families who were previously asking for assistance have been able to move forward. Ruth also mentioned that some of the addresses were new to her – meaning that the families asking for assistance might not be living in shelters and are possibly living in non-traditional homes mentioned at the beginning of the article.

Information about the rights of homeless students in Seattle Public School can be found here:

First Place is seeing an increase in phone calls asking for assistance, and like many organizations, is not able to expand our services to meet the need due to the current economy.

Why First Place?
First Place is a tuition free private school especially designed to meet the needs of homeless and low-income students and provide support to the entire family. Our goal is to help children successfully transition into public school and to stabilize the entire family. Students transition into public school within one to three years of their time at First Place.

View a recent Success Story of a student who recently transitioned into a Seattle public school here: Proud Parent Say Thank You.

We invite you to learn more. First Place offers tour on Fridays at 11am. RSVP at

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