Pilot program will help homeless students and their families

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Tough economic times are apparently contributing to a steep increase in
homelessness among CPS students: As of June 2009, CPS identified 12,512
students as homeless, an increase of almost 2,000 students in just the
last year, according to data from the Chicago Coalition for the
Homeless.

In comparison, the homeless student population grew by only 126 students between 2006 and 2008.

Tough economic times are apparently contributing to a steep increase in homelessness among CPS students: As of June 2009, CPS identified 12,512 students as homeless, an increase of almost 2,000 students in just the last year, according to data from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

In comparison, the homeless student population grew by only 126 students between 2006 and 2008. 

Advocates are worried that the number will continue to rise because of job losses and foreclosures caused by the recession. Most of the new homeless students aren’t necessarily living in shelters. Instead, they’re students whose families have no permanent residence and instead must move from house to house, “doubling up” with friends or relatives.

Chapin Hall, an independent policy and research group, reported on the academic impact of homelessness in a 2008 report that found fewer homeless students passed state achievement tests, sometimes scoring almost 20 percentage points lower than the rest of their peers.

Other research has found that homeless students experience other difficulties, such as being retained more often.  Chapin Hall’s report found that nearly two-thirds of homeless students changed schools at least once during the year, and on average, students switched schools 3.2 times. Homeless students were also more likely to require special education services.

Rene Heybach, director of the law project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, says that CPS is using AmeriCorps volunteers and summer tutors to help bridge the achievement gap between homeless students and their classmates. It’s not always, enough, though.  “We’re always underfunded, and there are always too many kids,” says Heybach. “More kids stretch it even thinner.”

Last month, the city announced the Homeless Student Support Initiative, a new strategy to provide housing, employment assistance, health care and after-school services to homeless students and their families in the coming school year.

The city plans to use $3 million in federal stimulus funds to assist homeless students attending school in Englewood.  The pilot will include 500 CPS students, primarily those whose families are living doubled up with relatives or friends. Still, the program will only be a pilot, and there are currently no plans for expansion.

Heybach stresses the importance of housing to help students. “When you have stable housing in the community, you have stable families.”