New London, Groton and Norwich schools struggle to aid homeless students

Apr. 29—NEW LONDON — In a span of two days this month, faculty superintendents in New London and Groton defending their finances plans identified the troubling pattern of homeless students of their districts.

“Our homeless students here, sadly, have continued to grow,” New London Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie informed members of town’s Finance Committee on April 17. “As of today, we have 357 (students out of 3,003) classified as homeless.”

Ritchie, noting the district allots funds to assist feed, dress, and in excessive instances, home a few of its students, characterised the variety of homeless students up to now this yr because the “highest we’ve seen it.”

That identical week, Groton Superintendent Susan Austin introduced up the difficulty of pupil homelessness throughout a Town Council finances evaluation session.

Austin, who mentioned the district makes use of grant funding to present meals, provides and clothes to needy students, argued “kids need to have their basic needs met in order to be educated.”

Three native faculty districts ― New London, Norwich and Groton ― final yr have been ranked among the many Connecticut districts with the most important variety of homeless students, in accordance to information culled from the state’s EdSight instructional database.

New London, with 498 homeless students, was the third-highest on the 2022-23 record, slightly below New Haven (719) and Waterbury (652). New Haven’s inhabitants, although, is roughly 135,000 in contrast to New London’s practically 28,000, in accordance to the most recent U.S. census information.

Norwich got here in tenth with 85 homeless students and Groton reached the sixteenth spot with 57 homeless students.

Jersahid Valencia, the New London faculty district’s coordinator of household engagement, mentioned he suspects New London’s city character is an enormous purpose why it has so many homeless students.

“Families looking for a place to live go to where they know someone, maybe an uncle or a cousin, that they can live for a period of time while they look for their own place,” he mentioned, noting that the “doubling-up” model of residing is taken into account homeless below federal tips.

Denise Doolittle, director of pupil personnel providers for Groton Public Schools, thinks the uptick in homelessness amongst students may very well be a delayed consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Groton, Doolittle mentioned landlords are growing the hire throughout the board and households are having a tough time assembly that elevated month-to-month fee. With the inflow of Electric Boat staff, landlords could also be advertising and marketing some rental items to these well-paid staff, which is driving households out and limiting choices for households on the lookout for reasonably priced housing.

The Groton district presently has 29 students recognized as homeless. There are 62 students in Ivy Court, Fieldside Apartments, Phoenix Apartments and Sutton Place that probably may very well be displaced due to evictions, in accordance to Rebecca Beyus, communications specialist.

Though the numbers of homeless students in New London and Groton range wildly from yr to yr, the 2022-23 faculty time period in every of these districts marked the very best incidences of homeless students reported because the statistics grew to become accessible in 2006.

The state’s database broke the 2022-23 Norwich homeless pupil numbers out between the Norwich Public School system (85) and these at Norwich Free Academy (51), the highschool that serves town and a number of surrounding cities. Last yr’s complete of 136 homeless students marked the very best quantity recorded in Norwich because the 148 recorded 2006-07.

No secure place to sleep

Connecticut makes use of language from the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act ― the first piece of laws aimed toward guaranteeing homeless youngsters have entry to schooling ― to outline homeless students as these missing a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.”

The act additional breaks down that residency definition into 4 classes: “Doubled-up,” wherein a pupil shares housing with one other particular person due to lack of housing or different financial hardships; lodge or motels; “sheltered,” together with homeless or emergency shelters; and “unsheltered,” a class which incorporates these residing in autos, deserted buildings, public areas or substandard housing.

Statewide, there have been 5,093 homeless students in 2022-23 ― the very best quantity recorded by the state since 2014-15 ― with the overwhelming majority (3,309) categorized as being “doubled-up.”

Valencia, because the district’s liaison to its homeless students, is tasked with connecting needy households to a variety of neighborhood and district choices, from hospitals or neighborhood teams to housing assets in neighboring cities.

“That could be transportation, supplies or even hotels,” he mentioned on Monday. “A student can’t have success in school if they don’t have a stable place to live. And you can’t assume what segment of the population needs these services. It could be anyone.”

Valencia mentioned a household’s housing standing is self-reported throughout enrollment.

“I think there’s a lot more (homeless) people in New London than we know about because they don’t report that either out of fear of (the state Department of Children and Families) being called, or embarrassment,” he mentioned. “And they don’t know about the resources out there.”

Those assets can embody placing up a household in dire straits in a neighborhood lodge for per week.

“Typically, we see that need because of an eviction or some sort of emergency, like a fire,” Valencia mentioned. “There’s a lot of people that don’t have success in finding a stable place to live because of cost or past rental history.”

New London schools in 2022-23 paid for lodge stays for 34 households. He mentioned whereas the district solely covers up to seven days for such stays, many households find yourself staying for much longer.

“I know of one family, employed with two kids, that needed to move into a hotel two years ago and are still there because they can’t find their own place,” Valencia mentioned, including he is labored with a handful of households residing in autos within the final seven years and a bigger variety of households residing in native shelters.

As of Monday, there have been 21 New London students residing in a shelter, in accordance to district information, up from the 13 reported final faculty yr.

“We’ve run out of money”

The funding for the district’s homeless-related work comes from a mix of in-house finances cash and federal grants like these equipped by the McKinney-Vento Act.

“But, as of last week, we’ve run out of that money,” Valencia mentioned.

Carrie Rivera, the district’s government director of college and pupil help providers, mentioned nearly all the cash accessible for homeless pupil providers comes from McKinney-Vento grants, although there’s by no means any clear indication how a lot New London will get in any given yr.

In 2021-22, the district obtained $108,000 in McKinney-Vento grant cash, and one other $108,000 in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief pandemic monies, for homeless pupil programming.

“But we got none last year and only $50,000 for this year,” Rivera mentioned. “We could get more grant money as early as this summer, but we don’t get a heads-up on that.”

Rivera mentioned the district is remitted below state legislation to cowl the price of transporting its students staying at out-of-town resorts, however should discover various funding sources ― together with dipping into the overall finances ― for different providers.

“And that’s what we’re doing now, checking with other agencies to see what they have for emergency funding,” Valencia mentioned.

Ritchie mentioned the district straight funds a slate of programming and positions straight associated to pupil homelessness, together with after-school actions, house visits and meals deliveries.

“We’ve had to creatively combine a variety of funding sources to create these wrap-around services, including shifting money in our own budget,” she mentioned. “And that’s all to ensure students get the best education we can provide.”

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Day Staff Writer Kimberly Drelich contributed to this story.

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