Homelessness: Not just a loss of housing
“Homelessness is not just a loss of housing. It is a loss of stability, safety, and identity,” Liz Birdsley, Homeless Specialist for the Cedar Rapids School District, said.
Her job is to make sure those students who are homeless still have the chance to attend school despite their current living situations. This includes enrolling students even if they don’t have records yet, waiving fees for lunch, arranging transportation, and helping surpass any other barrier that would stand in the way of getting a proper education.
“The McKinney-Vento Act defines a homeless student as an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” from the January 2016 PIT Report.
603 students in our district were identified as homeless during the 2015-2016 school year. That is almost 4% of the total number of students enrolled in the district for the current school year which would be one person in a classroom of thirty people.
“The number only accounts for school aged children attending the Cedar Rapids School District so you can imagine how much greater that number is once we factor in children too young for school, their parents or other adult family members living with them, and single men and women,” Birdsley said.
There are things that can be done to help the homeless population, though. Each year, a Sleep Out for the Homeless takes place in the fall to raise money for the homeless as a team or as an indiviual. Since 2006, this event has raised over $100,000 with $20,000 being last year’s goal. The donations go to the following organizations:
- Area Substance Abuse Council-helps recovering men, women with or without children, and pregnant women
- Catherine McAuley Center-helps women
- Family Promise of Linn County-helps families
- Foundation 2- helps families, youth
- HACAP- helps families and children
- Mission of Hope- helps former offenders, adult males, and intoxicated adult males
- Salvation Army-helps families
- Waypoint- helps women, children, domestic violence victims
- Willis Dady- helps men, families
- Cedar Valley Friends of the Family- helps women and children experiencing sexual or domestic abuse
- Catholic Worker House- helps women, married couples with or without children
“Sleep Out isn’t about providing a taste of what it’s like to be homeless. You may leave the event with a small glimpse of how challenging and emotional the situation can be. But one night without shelter, no matter how cold or wet, can’t replace the distressing experience of having no place to live,” from Sleepoutcr.org.
Outside of this local event, there are still other ways local students can help.
“Students can organize drives to collect goods for our area homeless shelters such as hygiene items, baby items, clothing, winter wear, or food,” Birdsley said.
Students can also volunteer their time to serve meals or encourage others to donate time or money to help this cause and raise awareness that this is real in our community and district.