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MN2020 - Homeless Students in the Twin Cities Suburbs
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Homeless Students in the Twin Cities Suburbs

October 07, 2009 By John Fitzgerald

The number of homeless children attending school in some suburban Twin Cities communities has skyrocketed since 2005, records show.  Experts say there are two reasons for the hike in homeless students. The first and most obvious is the home foreclosure crisis which has moved families away from stable homes and into shelters or other temporary housing. The second reason for the increase is better accounting methods via the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which requires schools to provide transportation, school supplies, and connection to existing services such as free school breakfast and lunch and state medical insurance.

The numbers are startling:

In the 2005-06 school year, the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district counted 33 homeless students. Last year, that number was 127.

In 2005-06, the Osseo school district has 93 homeless students. In 2008-09, they had 138.

In 2005-06, the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale school district had 53 homeless students. Last year they had 140 students and district Homeless Liaison Ryan Strack anticipates more than 300 students this school year.

By contrast, the number of homeless students in the Minneapolis school district has remained less volatile, with 4,751 homeless students in 2005-06 and 5,547 in 2008-09.

The numbers bear out the foreclosure theory of student homelessness. North St. Paul and Maplewood are first-ring suburbs of St. Paul "so when shelter options run out in St. Paul, one of the options for homeless people is to come here," Strack said. Maplewood is also home to the Ramsey Family Service Center, which helps homeless families.

Greg Clausen, the Coordinator of Prevention Services in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district, said homelessness is no longer relegated to areas with a transient or low-income population. "We see students who come from low-income housing, but we also see students from families you wouldn't believe had any financial issues, but they have to deal with losses as well," he said.

Outward migration from core Minneapolis and St. Paul neighborhoods has been occurring for more than 20 years, said Baris Gumus-Dawes, a research fellow at the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota. Poverty has been a problem in the cities and in first-ring suburbs for years "and foreclosures have just spread these people to their limits," she said. "They were offered crazy loans by predatory lenders and for people in these situations, the minute you're unemployed, you're pretty much homeless."

Reporting the number of homeless students has become more accurate as well. The McKinney-Vento act requires districts to hire a coordinator to keep track of homeless students, a job already done by metro districts and easily assumed by larger suburban districts. While some started counting homeless children in the 2004-05, numbers were sketchy as officials learned how best to track the students and more accurate numbers are available after the 2005-06 school year.

The Minnesota Department of Education is still in the process of educating outstate districts on how to account for homeless students. They note that severe budget cutbacks have forced this job onto principals or superintendents who already have too much to do. Therefore, MDE officials said it will be at least until the end of this year until reliable state-wide numbers about homeless students are available.

Homelessness is very difficult to track, mostly because it can occur without the school knowing about it. Many don't think to tell school officials, or think there won't be any benefits available to them. School districts have found the most effective way at present to track homelessness is to count the number of students who use the McKinney-Vento act requirement that school districts provide transportation for them to their home school.

How many students take advantage of these school services at one time? That's hard to know, Clausen said. "They come and go. We provide services for them for a month then they live with relatives elsewhere in the country. They can become a very transient population - it varies by family.

"There are a lot of sad situations out there," he said.

As the number of homeless students continues to increase, schools have fewer resources to deal with growing needs. Now is not the time for Minnesota to be leaving our kids out in the cold.


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