On October 23rd, 2018, Seattle Public Schools district staff received an email from the Mckinney Vento assistance program declaring that all students and families experiencing homelessness must re-register every year.
The Mckinney Vento program, as defined on the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Website (OSPI), “provides federal funding to states for the purpose of supporting district programs that serve homelessness”.
The previous policy ensured that when a student, or the parent or guardian of that student, registered as homeless, this information would stay in the schools database. With the new policy, the students need to be registered yearly in order to receive the benefits. This requires staff to make an extra effort to reach out to students possibly experiencing homelessness in order to provide assistance to anyone in need.
Students experiencing homelessness may have limited access to cellphones, internet, and email.
“It can be very difficult communicating and getting the word out. Short of going up to someone and saying ‘Are you homeless, want a form?’” said Daniel Lee, the 10th-12th grade Garfield counselor.
The job of the staff is to make sure that all students have the support that they need. But with this new policy, they are facing challenges. During the 2017-2018 school year there were 151 students registered as homeless. This 2018-2019 school year, there are only 56 students registered.
“I’m fairly confident that 100 families didn’t just get housing, there’s a lot more families that are not identified as homeless when they should be.” Lee said.
The Mckinney Vento Act is there to help those students all around the country that are experiencing homelessness, providing the support they need. The reasoning behind this new enforcement has not been clarified.
When inquiring the purpose of the policy, the definition of Homelessness is put into questioning. Homelessness is not a forever label and has a complicated definition. The definition of homeless includes those who have temporary homes and also those living without any permanent residence. A person experiencing homelessness might be with and without a stable home within a number of days. Homelessness is a sensitive topic, especially for those experiencing it.
“In order to keep it confidential, we have to be very careful about how we talk about it.” said Lee. While the Garfield staff wants to support all of the students experiencing homelessness, not everyone is comfortable being packed in a box marked “homeless”. Currently, the staff are facing the conflict between confidentiality and supporting all the students in need.