Superintendent Manny Caulk made a good point in responding to a recent study by the Lexington Fair Housing Council that showed the number of homeless students in the Fayette County Public Schools had almost doubled in three years to 795 in 2014-15.
“I would encourage the council to broaden its focus to not only what schools can do once a student is experiencing homelessness, but also how to engage our community to take bold steps to address the root causes,” of homelessness, Caulk said in a prepared statement. The time for “looking at data and calling attention to this issue is past.”
We’re encouraged to see that since Beth Musgrave reported on increased homelessness among Faytte County Public Schools children three weeks ago James Hodge, the district’s new, full-time coordinator of services to homeless students, has met with Charlie Lanter, the city’s homeless services coordinator, and others engaged in addressing the issue in our area.
That’s great news because the community cannot help these students without the full cooperation and engagement of the school district.
Lanter, who has been on the job for about two years ago since the city created and funded his office, said students are a particularly difficult group to help because typically they don’t meet the definition of homeless set out by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Often, a relative or friend will give them a couch to sleep on or a bedroom to double up in, at least for a few days, so they aren’t spending the night in cars or shelters or parks, he explained.
But that couch-surfing existence contributes to absenteeism and underachievement.
Musgrave reported that on state tests no homeless child in Lexington public schools had scored distinguished, the highest category, in reading at the elementary school level during 2013-14. Nor did they do well in regular course work, she reported. That year 50 percent had a least one “D” and 43 percent at least one “F.”
With that start, homeless children face huge barriers to getting an education that will allow them to achieve economic independence.
Despite this, “there are very limited resources for that population,” Lanter said, because they fall outside the HUD guidelines for homelessness.
And, it’s hard for non-profit providers to identify them, making school district involvement so critical. District personnel “know who those students are but the provider network doesn’t know who they are,” Lanter said.
This is an opportune moment for the district and the community to form a strong, enduring partnership to help these at-risk children and their families. Neither the city nor the district has an entrenched bureaucracy that could impede cooperation — Lanter’s been on the job two years, Caulk one and Hodge only a few months.
Excellent reporting by Musgrave and the Fair Housing Council provide a baseline against which to measure success or failure.
Caulk’s right, it’s time for action. But he and his staff must be at the center of that action if this community is to make the bold progress he envisions to root out homelessness among his district’s students.