August 31, 2014

Homelessness complicates the truancy challenge

There were 880 students identified in the Durham Public Schools last year as homeless or without a stable home.

How do you send a letter home when a student doesn’t have one?

There were 880 students identified as homeless or without a stable home in the Durham Public Schools last year.

DPS has a growing homeless student population. Buses can’t always find children who move around a lot or have no stable address. Absence letters and automated phone calls may go unanswered.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act requires districts to ensure homeless students have access to education and other services they need to meet the same high academic achievement standards as all students.

It defines “homeless” as lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. This includes children who are sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, emergency or transitional shelters, hotels/motels, substandard housing, bus or train stations or similar settings.

Capt. Raheem Aleem of Durham County Sheriff’s Office said some homeless students that skip school may be ashamed.

“He may not have any food at home,” Aleem said. “He may not want to go to school because his clothes are dirty and he thinks the kids are going to pick at him at school if he comes to school like that.

“That’s somebody we need to work with a little bit closer,” he explained. “Because that is somebody if we can do something – get someone to wash their clothes or something and help that child feel good about themselves – then maybe they will go to school.”

Homeless children are susceptible to gang activity, especially when they start to feel helpless or hopeless.

“The gangs love them because the gangs can get them to do whatever they want them to do,” Aleem said. “They are easy targets.”

Jackie Love, the homeless and at-risk liason for DPS, said students who move frequently fall months behind their fellow students.

“We rely on people in the community to help us identify these families,” Love said.

But not all can be identified, she said

Mayor Bill Bell has made fighting poverty in Durham a priority in 2014 with his Poverty Reduction Initiative.

Bell has cited statistics that show 21.3 percent of Durham residents live in poverty, and so are forced to choose, he said, between paying for food, housing, medicine or other necessities.

Since his February State of the City speech, Bell has said the initiative – reducing poverty in the long term and in the short term improving quality of life for Durham citizens in poverty – will require a partnership between those in need of help and those who want to help them.

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