10.9% of GTC Students Experienced Homelessness in Grade 5, Study Finds | New
TRAVERSE CITY – As the school year begins, Abigail Jordan thinks about pillows.
Jordan oversees some 500 students in the Traverse City area public schools STEP program, a support system for students in temporary housing.
She wants to know if her students have a place to rest at night. It’s part of her job to find toothbrushes and pencils for her kids, backpacks for their books, or sneakers to wear to the gym.
“You’d be surprised how many kids don’t have their own pillows,” Jordan said.
Despite everything she does, what she can’t find for her children, is a decent and stable place to live.
In August, a study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that 10.9% of students in Grand Traverse County were homeless by the time they reached college. Data from researchers shows that more than 500 children in the county were homeless in 2018.
In neighboring counties, they have identified hundreds of other children who are making their way to school from shelters, hotels and even tents or campgrounds while it is still hot.
It is a problem with systemic roots that school districts struggle to resolve. A pandemic hasn’t made this challenge any easier.
This summer, Jordan arranged accommodation for a family with two students who lived in a car. With shelters filled to the brim, the best support STEP could provide was a tent and a set of sleeping bags. As the school year begins, Jordan says she has students living in shelters and high school students living alone.
“We have overcrowded homes, we have families running water out the window to fill the tub, that’s the reality for some of our families,” Jordan said. “The situation is becoming much more complex and dramatic. “
The Ministry of Education defines students as homeless if they do not have fixed, inadequate or stable housing. The definition does not necessarily mean that students are rough sleeping, but it does include students whose lives have been turned upside down by unstable housing; these are children who may be living in shelters, or whose parents have recently been evicted and find themselves on a parent’s couch.
The consequences of learning to live in limbo are clear. Students without stable housing are more likely to be absent, disciplined, suspended and expelled, according to studies from the Department of Education.
They are also much more likely to change schools in the middle of a school year. Educators say these mid-year transfers have significantly slowed students down, in part because of the loss of key relationships students form with their teachers. The jump can amount to four to six months of school loss.
“There is a really significant difference between students who experience homelessness and those who are not,” said Jennifer Erb-Downward, one of the authors of the University of Michigan study.
“You really see this lasting impact. And when you look at this group of former homeless people, they continue to struggle, ”said Erb-Downward.
Outside of the classroom, older students experiencing homelessness play an incredible role in balancing life and study. In May 2017, the Record-Eagle followed Paige Risden, a high school student in Traverse City who lived alone in a rented trailer near Boardman Lake. Risden worked 40 hours a week outside of school to stay out of the water.
In cases like Risden’s, Jordan, the STEP coordinator, acts as a kind of surrogate parent. She helps children make doctor’s appointments or apply for their driver’s license. And it helps adapt their academic workload so that students don’t feel overwhelmed and give up.
But when the pandemic struck, she said many STEP children were missing. Many have failed to engage in e-learning, while others have left the TCAPS system altogether to work full-time – an easier change to make in a region where employers have increased wages and expanded benefits for entry-level workers.
“We are looking for our children because there are so many who are not enrolled,” Jordan said. “People are in survival mode. Now our children really feel obligated to work.
Between Antrim, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Benzie and Grand Traverse, about 985 students were living in this type of transient situation, according to data from the University of Michigan report.
Neighboring counties had much higher rates in that same key metric – that of having experienced homelessness by the end of fifth grade. In County Leelanau, 13.5% of students were uprooted before fifth grade. At Benzie, the rate was 18.3 percent. And in County Antrim, the rate was 21%, more than three times the state average.
As a result of federal stimulus money for schools, the state of Michigan has set aside $ 24 million to address homelessness among students.
Erb-Downward believes those funds could be easily leveraged by tackling what she calls fruits at hand. Schools could do more to publicize their bond with homeless students, an employee that all school districts are required to have by law.
Among the fruits to come is rethinking how schools identify homeless students from the start, so that students who need support do not fall through the cracks.
At TCAPS, the money will go to Abigail Jordan’s backpacks, pencils and pillows, but also to keep parents at home. As of September, Jordan had two families threatened with foreclosure and another handful of families threatened with eviction, she said. The moratorium on evictions in Michigan expired on August 26.
Jordan says the only thing that will help deal with the current crisis is stimulus cash.
She calls it “rescue money”.