Families in Transition
Helping Homeless Students, Families in Northwest Michigan
CHARLEVOIX - It may be difficult to imagine in the peaceful and scenic surroundings of Northwest Michigan that homelessness is an issue in area communities. Tory Thrush, Char-Em ISD Career/College Readiness Consultant and Homeless Liaison, however, sees the impact of homelessness on a regular basis as he works with area families in transition.
Thrush’s role is to help homeless students be as successful as their peers in school – a challenge that can be compounded by the lack of a stable home.
"It all goes back to the impact that we can have on a child. We recognize that when these children are worried about their basic needs being met, they're not going to be successful in school. We all have a vested interest in wanting kids to do well and be successful in their lives, without these barriers. There is quite a network working locally to support families, it is a community effort."
Within Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District, there are approximately 255 homeless students, according to 2016-17 figures. Thrush works with families and liaisons within local districts to connect those struggling to helpful resources, such as the Human Services Coordinating Body and the Continuum of Care network.
"We not only help those who are literally homeless by definition, but those families that are at-risk of being homeless," said Thrush. "The liaisons within the local districts do an incredible job of compassionately helping these families, with genuine care about their futures. It is a great team."
Students at risk of homelessness may offer clues to teachers, staff and concerned adults, such as frequent absences, poor hygiene, or wearing the same clothes multiple days in a row. They may be more tired than average, due to sleeping in different places or sharing spaces with extended family or friends, or sleeping in a vehicle.
"It impacts their overall functioning throughout the day," said Thrush. "They are extra tired because they are worried about where they’re going to sleep. I also think for some kids, they can feel embarrassed, so there is that social aspect that is very stressful. They’re not going to be able to focus on academics when they’re thinking about where they are going to get their next meal."
To ensure help for these students, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 required school districts to ensure the immediate enrollment, school stability and academic support needed to improve the educational success of homeless children and youth.
"Homeless children have the same rights of access to free and appropriate education as their peers," said Thrush, who works with up to 12 families each year. "Most of my families are very open to having someone help them out, because they didn't know what to do or what services are available. We can coordinate housing with voucher programs and transportation within our network of agencies, for instance. We can help get them winter boots and backpacks, or $10 for a school field trip.
"It is rewarding work to help a family get back on their feet and see their children be successful in school."
Char-Em ISD Homeless Liaison responsibilities
- Identify homeless youth through outreach and coordination with other agencies
- Enroll youth in school and ensure they have equal access to education
- Help refer families and youth to health care services, dental services, mental health services, housing services, and other appropriate services.
- Inform and educate parents about educational opportunities available to their children
- Help coordinate transportation for students to and from school
- Provide other services to meet students’ needs (clothing, food, school supplies, hygiene supplies, etc.)
Reach Tory Thrush, Char-Em ISD Homeless Liaison, at 231.582.8070 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Definition of Homeless According to McKinney-Vento Legislation
The law says that a child or youth without a fixed, regular and adequate residence is homeless. It does not matter how long the child or youth has been without a home. It also does not matter if the child or youth is living with a parent or is separated from parents. Under the Act, students are homeless if they are:
- Living with a friend, relative or someone else because they lost their home or can't afford a home
- Staying in a hotel or motel
- Living in an emergency or transitional shelter or a domestic violence shelter
- Staying in substandard housing
- Living in a car, park, public place, abandoned building or bus or train station
- Living in a campground or an inadequate trailer home
- Abandoned in a hospital; or living in a runaway or homeless youth shelter