“People don’t realize that there are homeless teens in this community – right here in Brentwood,” said Sarah Singrin, McKinney-Vento Homeless Student Support coordinator for the district. “The truth is: there are more homeless teens today than five years ago. But since you don’t see kids sleeping on the streets, the homeless population is ignored. Out of sight, out of mind.”
Under the 1986 McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, all public school districts throughout the United States must offer some type of assistance to homeless students. Students are classified as homeless if they are living on the streets or in their cars, in an “adequate housing” situation such as a motel, or “couch surfing” – living with friends or extended family.
Singrin said more students are classified as homeless these days due to the recession. Many families have lost their homes to foreclosures and been forced to find a new living situation. Sometimes that means doubling up and living with another family or moving out of town entirely. Some students decide to stay behind to finish out the semester or the school year before rejoining their family in a different town. These students might find temporary housing with a family member or a friend, but they’re still considered homeless because they have no permanent residence.
According to the McKinney-Vento Act, homelessness shouldn’t prevent you from continuing your education. Through the grant Singrin secured for the district three years ago, students are offered support and connections to local resources so that they can stay in school. Singrin keeps the trunk of her car filled with school supplies such as binders and notebooks, but she also keeps sweatshirts, beanies and other warm clothing for homeless students without proper attire for the winter and the money to afford new clothes.
“It’s easier to identify homeless students when the weather changes,” Singrin said. “When it’s cold and you see a student without a jacket shivering in the quad, that’s normally a sign. I’ve formed a relationship with the administration on each campus and they know that if they hear of a student in trouble or who might need assistance, all they have to do is call me.”
Whether a district receives special funding or not, it must employ a liaison to support homeless students. Most districts assign an assistant superintendent to manage homeless student support services, but at the Liberty district, Singrin is the go-to person. She makes herself accessible to all five schools – Liberty, Freedom, Heritage, La Paloma and Indepence high schools – throughout the week.
Since taking the role, Singrin has aided more than 150 students and is currently monitoring the status of 70. She helps them in any way she can, often offering her personal phone number so they can contact her at any time. She connects students with job placement programs and offers bus passes for those who don’t own a car. Homeless students are also enrolled in a school meal plan that guarantees them at least two meals a day.
“These kids have enough stress in their lives,” Singrin said. “Trying to sit through a history class when you’re mind is on where you’re going to sleep at night is of no benefit to the student. What I try to do is find a solution to help get this student through this rough patch.”
Even with all of the stresses in these students’ lives, Singrin is amazed at how determined they are to complete their education. Most couch-surfing students, who have been displaced by foreclosures or kicked out of their homes, don’t even consider themselves homeless and are reluctant to accept assistance from Singrin, believing that her services and resources would be better utilized for a student who “really” needs it.
“These kids are resilient,” Singrin said. “Their stories bring tears to my eyes, but they never pity themselves. They are so determined to keep their heads above water and stay in school. They still have dreams for college or trade school. They are an inspiration and they don’t even realize it.”