Columbia schools strive to help homeless students
COLUMBIA – With November as National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, Columbia schools are working to help homeless students.
“Just to see that cycle of frustration, it makes you feel helpless. So we do the best we can, contacting as many people as possible to help galvanize support as often we can,” said Eryca Neville, principal of Frederick Douglass High School.
Missouri had 29,784 homeless students during the 2013-2014 school year. Around 200 of those homeless students were enrolled in Columbia Public Schools, according to CPS Community Relations Director Michelle Baumstark.
“Homelessness is a major problem everywhere these days. That’s probably a very low number because we have a lot of families who couch surf, move in with a family for awhile and they don’t identify as homeless,” said Pam Conway, Executive Director of Cradle to Career Alliance.
Neville is the Director for Alternative Education for Columbia Public Schools and said she deals with many homeless students on a day-to-day basis.
According to a recent report, the number of homeless students in the U.S. has doubled since 2008. Currently about 3 percent of students in the nation’s public school system are homeless.
Missouri is ranked tenth in the nation for number of homeless students during the 2013-2014 school year, according to a U.S. Department of Education report.
Students self report if they are homeless or near homelessness, according to Neville. The school then provides them with necessary resources such as transportation, meals and clothing vouchers.
Neville said many students and families are forced to live in hotels because they cannot afford housing in Columbia.
“I think a lot of people in spheres that have a lot of influence and power in Columbia, Missouri, really need to think and contemplate just how extensive their support networks have been to have them get where they are,” Neville said.
Neville said she prepares all of her students to enter college, technical training or some type of higher education after high school.
“I think the awareness and access have been increased based off the quality of the relationships we have with our kids,” Neville said.
Organizations like Cradle to Career Alliance help homeless students reach their education goals. Conway said she coordinates collaborative action networks formed of different agencies in Boone County to help the students.
“I really feel like every child deserves a quality education and that we need to do everything we can to support that in attaining that because, if you’re well educated, your chances of getting a job are much better,” Conway said.