Experts say policy changes could remove barriers to permanent housing for homeless students | News

More than 200 students have been reported homeless so far this school year at Stillwater Public Schools.

Although the number has declined in recent years, many students and families are still struggling. Homelessness is not defined in the school system as living on the streets. Families or students can live in cars, shelters, or stay with friends.

SPS received the McKinney Vento grant to help provide resources to students and families. The grant also clearly defines who is considered homeless.

Diana Nolan, a social worker at Stillwater Public School, assesses families.

“We are 240 families. As I have done reassessments of these families this year, many have acquired adequate housing and are doing well, ”Nolan said. “But it’s like everyone else that I withdraw the purse, I follow it up with another. Some fall, but I have more to come.

The grant defines homelessness as people who do not have a fixed and adequate overnight residence, children who surf on their couch because their parents have lost their home, children who have a place overnight in a area that is not usually used as a sleeping place and children living in cars, parks etc.

“If they lost their job and something happened, and they had to move in with another family member or another family to survive, that is considered homeless because they are matched. with someone else, ”Nolan said. “So I think a lot of times people hear homeless people and they think these people are living on the streets. No, these people live in shelters, some are couch surfing, others are in their cars.

Nolan said homelessness hurts education because when students focus more on hunger or where they will sleep that night, it is more difficult to focus on school homework.

“From my perspective as a social worker, the impact on mental health is huge,” she said. “A home is your safe place. It’s your anchor. This is the place to go after a long day at school.

Mike Stout, an associate professor at Oklahoma State University in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, believes a few policies can help alleviate homelessness as a whole.

“People with a criminal record are not eligible for certain programs and grants. After being evicted with low credit, which we know poor people are more likely to have low credit for, all of these things make housing less accessible and more expensive, ”Stout said. “So from a political point of view, if we could find a way to stop penalizing people who have already served their prison sentence… all of these things could also lower the barriers and increase the likelihood that we can reduce it. roaming. . “

Nolan said the fight against homelessness in Stillwater comes down to families not having enough money to spend on a permanent residence.

“How do they find this money? How do they find this down payment, ”she asked. “Stillwater is screaming about new housing for low income people, but you have to find (the) money to access it. You also need to have a fairly solid history.

Large families are not accepted at shelters, and if they cannot afford a residence, they may need to find other arrangements.

“We currently have families who live off their cars… it’s a challenge. The challenge is to find accommodation in Stillwater. I would say the biggest challenge is finding accommodation, ”she said. “Because if you have a crime you cannot get housing under section 8… we have had situations where we have families that have large families, several children, the shelter cannot take them because that there are too many families. “

Nolan said education is essential to help these families. Right now, the scholarship allows her to do a lot for students, but it also relies on the generosity of others.

“I think number 1 just realizes families have to do it, finding accommodation in Stillwater is a challenge, and number two, if people in the community want to help, there are all kinds of places to help. “

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