Center and Hickman Mills launch initiatives to end student homelessness

By Jill Draper

She tried to hide her situation for a while—a mom with young children fleeing from domestic abuse—but when her resources ran out, she came to Stacy King in tears. King, then principal at Center Elementary, helped arrange transportation and school uniforms for the woman’s two school-aged kids, but there was no way to offer much support for the mom and her baby.

That’s why King, who now works for the Center School District as director of family and student services, is excited about a new initiative to help homeless students find permanent housing as well as assist their families with job searches, food, clothing, bus passes, budgeting, parenting, legal advice and more.

“As a school district, our resources are limited,” she says. “But with this project we can wrap around the whole family.”

The project, called Impact Center Schools, was launched on Jan. 22 with the goal of ending student homelessness through collaboration with local government, churches, social service agencies and individual volunteers.

The Hickman Mills School District will launch a similar project at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Blue Hills Church of the Nazarene, 10306 Blue Ridge Blvd. Those wishing to attend should click here.

Stacey Johnson-Cosby is working on both initiatives as a community organizer.

“My personal hope is that these projects will help students stay in school, achieve higher grades and in the long run, lessen crime,” says Johnson-Cosby, who was part of a group which met about 18 months earlier when someone working on a master’s degree challenged school leaders with this question: What one problem do you have that the community can help solve? The answer: generational poverty.

In tackling this goal, Center School District first developed a successful mentorship program, pairing at-risk students with community members. Now it’s focusing on nearly 200 students who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

The number in Hickman Mills is even larger, just under 500 out of a total
student population of about 5,900, according to the District.

Both districts are modeling their programs after one in Kansas City, Kan., that’s credited with a 50 percent drop in homeless students and a corresponding drop in the need for foster care in Wyandotte County, one of the state’s poorest areas. Begun in 2015, it revolves around “impact days,” a one-stop resource day held weekly at a backbone organization where a variety of groups collaborate to help families. In KCK that organization is Avenue of Life. In south KC the backbone organizations will be the Evangel Church at 1414 E 103rd St. and Blue Hills Church of the Nazarene at 10306 Blue Ridge Blvd. Colonial Presbyterian Church at 9500 Wornall Rd. is also heavily involved.   

According to Evelyn Smith, director of community engagement at Avenue of Life, the KCK program is also being considered as a model for school districts in Topeka, Wichita and other educational systems throughout the country.

“The surprising thing is that many of the homeless are not who you think they are,” she says. “They’re not standing on a street corner with a sign. The homeless are kids with their moms and dads who run into a bump in life and need a little help.”

Each public school district collects data on the homeless through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act which mandates that homeless students have the right to an education. In the Center School District the number of homeless families fluctuates, but King says by the end of the school year it averages at 100 to 125 families. The district serves approximately 2,600 students from pre-K through high school.

Center plans a soft opening for its impact center in April or May, and a full rollout is expected at the start of the 2019-20 school year. Training sessions for volunteers and donors are being scheduled. Call 816-349-3311 or email sking@center.k12.mo.us for more information. To inquire about training sessions at Hickman Mills, call Leslie Washington at 816-316-7000.

This article is also available in Spanish.

Leave a Reply