Missouri has tenth highest number of homeless students

Related Story

COLUMBIA - Missouri 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.

The report shows Missouri had 29,784 homeless students during the 2013-2014 school year. Around 200 of those students were enrolled in Columbia Public Schools, according to CPS Community Relations Director Michelle Baumstark. 

The report reveals the number of homeless students in Missouri has more than doubled since the 2007-2008 school year, which is consistent with patterns CPS Supervisor of Student and Family Advocacy Carla London has noticed in Columbia.

"I've noticed that our numbers have doubled over the past few years. We have quite a few more families that are experiencing financial setbacks up to homelessness," London said.

London said homelessness has a great impact on the students academics.

"The instability of not knowing where you are going to lay your head at night or if you're going to have a meal, has a powerful effect on a child. That makes education slide down the line as far as level of importance when you're really so worried about the immediacy of your needs," London said.

The McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth Assistance Act is federal legislation that ensures enrollment and educational stability for homeless children and youth. The act requires schools to enroll homeless children and youth immediately, even if they lack normally required documents like immunization records and proof of residence. The act also requires schools to provide transportation to and from school.

London said families often come to them to self-report they are in a state of homelessness. CPS then works with those families to provide transportation, meals, clothing vouchers and other things.

"It's very important that we wrap our arms around them and provide the supports that they need," London said.

London said that providing homeless students with the tools they need to succeed is not only key for those children, but for the good of the community.

"Quite possibly they are experiencing generational poverty or situational homelessness. So, it's very important for students to understand that we can prepare you for either that next level of education or for your career," London said.

Baumstark said there is only so much the school district is able to do for the students, so the district works with local organizations.

"We are only able to have students 14 percent of the year. The rest of the time, they are in the community, so we need to rely on the community resources as well," Baumstark said.

Baumstark said Columbia Public Schools refers some homeless students to Rainbow House, a children's emergency shelter. 

Rainbow House's website said the organization receives 10-15 calls per month from local youth who have been abused or kicked out of their home.

In 2012, the National Runaway Switchboard received 194 calls from the 573 area code regarding homeless youth.

Rainbow House opened the Homeless Youth Program in November 2007 and, according to their website, has served over 246 youth with housing, counseling, mentoring, case management and life skills training.

"At any time it could be any of us that is experiencing financial difficulties up to homelessness. It is really important that judgment is taken out of picture altogether, that we recognize that we are all in this community together to support all of our students and all of our families," London said.

London said the number of homeless students often grows throughout the school year.