CHATHAM – At any one time, one to two dozen Monomoy Regional School District students are homeless.
This school year, 26 students were technically homeless, defined under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act as children “who lack fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” Currently, 17 students, 1.4 percent of the district's total enrollment, meet that definition.
“It does speak to some of the socio-economic situation facing our district,” said Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter.
The information appeared to leave members of the school committee nonplussed.
“I had no idea what the situation was in our respective communities,” Chairman Brian Widegren said at the group's April 13 meeting. “I think it's important that we all are aware of that.”
Carpenter's report on homeless students came after a parent posed questions on the topic to school committee member Donna Richardson. He said he thought it was an important to inform the committee “just what is homelessness, what does it look like in our school district.”
“We all may have perceptions of what homelessness is based on stereotypes. I just want to kind of give it a face for our district and our communities,” Carpenter said.
Most of the students who meet the technical definition of homeless have some form of adequate shelter and are not living on the streets, although four of the 17 currently homeless students were living in Nickerson State Park seasonally, he said. Three were in shelters but have transitioned to homes, one was living in a hotel, and three were in foster care. Under the law, students temporarily in foster care as categorized as homeless.
Carpenter said the majority of the students classified as homeless are “doubled up,” living in the same residence with another family, most often a relative, such as a grandparent. “I think that summarizes most, but not all” students classified as homeless, he said.
Five of the 17 are living outside of the school district. Carpenter said that under the law, homeless students who find shelter outside the district are allowed to continue to attend their original school, and the district must provide transportation free of charge. He said Monomoy works with the school district where the student has moved to share transportation costs. The arrangement works both ways, he added, noting that there are currently four homeless students displaced into the Monomoy district who are attending school in their original districts, which share transportation costs with Monomoy.
Under the law, the district is required to have a homeless education liaison who works with students, families and the state to ensure that students' needs are met. Director of Student Services Melissa Maguire fulfills that role in the Monomoy district.
“The good news is that many of these families over the course of a school year will find fixed residences for their children,” Carpenter said. “We'll see families that will come onto that list, we'll see families that go onto that list over the course of the year.”
“It's not quite as extreme” as what most people picture homelessness to be, said Widegren, “but obviously it's quite serious.”
He asked Carpenter to provide a regular report on the homeless situation among Monomoy district students and families, and suggested there may be opportunities for the school committee or public to help.
“This is the kind of thing we should get a report on annually,” Widegren said. “I would like to know. I think the public would like to know. These are the most important members of our community, our students.”