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Q&A on Serving Homeless Students

April 29, 2014 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

Last year, 13,098 public school students were identified as homeless or precariously housed by the Minnesota Department of Education. Half of Minnesota's homeless population are children and youth under 21, according to 2012 Wilder research—largely due to the housing crash and uneven recovery.

When students go to school hungry, without enough sleep and worried about where they will spend the next night, it impacts learning. Superintendents across Minnesota are joining the Homes for All alliance in a united call for legislature to include $100 million in bonding to increase affordable housing.

How has the foreclosure crisis and homelessness impacted learning in your community?

How would you like to see housing advocates, developers, and education leaders team up to invest these housing dollars?

Today between 8 and 9:30 join Anne McInerney, St. Paul Public Schools’ homeless education services supervisor, and Kenza Hadj-Moussa with Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless for a discussion on ensuring all families have access to safe and affordable housing.


Post your comments or questions in the box below, scroll down to see the ongoing conversation, and use "refresh" to see new comments.

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  • Liz Loney says:

    April 29, 2014 at 8:00 am

    I would like to see a survey done of all adults who became homeless during the housing crisis and compare that control group to the already homeless. 

    Questions regarding adequate job search information, educational level, lack of transportation, health care issues, single parent, domestic abuse, and mental health should all be addressed in the survey.

    We need to get to the dominant core issues that are landing people on the streets and address those first. 
    I believe that Affordable housing is a good thing, but it can be like “tossing a line into the water” and not knowing where the fish are biting.

    Thank you,

    • Anne McInerney says:

      April 29, 2014 at 8:08 am

      You are right, it’s hard to know where to start.  Many families that were victims of the housing crisis had jobs, transportation etc.  Now, those families are moving into the rental market, which has become very tight. 
      Often families are not addressing their mental health, health care, job search etc because they have more immediate needs of finding a safe place to sleep for the night.  If we had housing, then their basic needs could be met so that they can then address the other issues.  Just a thought.

      • Kenza Hadj-Moussa says:

        April 29, 2014 at 8:16 am

        Wilder Research summarized the top 5 reasons why people are homeless in a blog last year. The lack of affordable housing is one key cause, but it’s not the only one.

        You touch on an important point. For many low-income Minnesotans, the economic crisis wasn’t a new experience…they were already in crisis. Thousands of Minnesotans lost their jobs and housing during the crash. Others were already struggling.

        Most people who are homeless in Minnesota are families with children. The public does not typically think of them as “homeless” because they are often in shelters, doubled up with other families, not seen on the streets.

  • Joe says:

    April 29, 2014 at 8:25 am

    Anne, can you tell us a little about some of the academic challenges homeless students face? What are interventions schools make to provide some level of consistency in their lives?

    • Anne McInerney says:

      April 29, 2014 at 8:41 am

      Students often come in tired and hungry, homework not completed.  Sometimes they may be wearing the same clothes.  Emotionally, students worry about their parent while they are at school, not sure where they are etc.  They may worry about where they will sleep that night.  Many are doubled up with family or friends and sleeping on the floor. Some are in shelters where they are bused to a church basement at night and then bused back to the shelter to catch another bus to school.  Some of our families are in cars and tents.  Some of the youth are on their own, couch hopping with friends. 
      Our program sets up transportation for students to return to their “school of origin”.  So, even if families are living in Mpls, Brooklyn Park, Maplewood they can return to their school to finish the school year.  We have school social workers who help with community resources (mental health, dentist, medical appts etc). We are able to provide school supplies, backpacks shoes, and school uniforms, if needed.  We also have a evening academic program for students who live in the shelters. Teachers are available to help with homework and academic skills using the SPPS curriculum.
      There are school social workers and counselors in the schools to support students and help manage their emotions.  Students receive free breakfast and lunch during the school week. 
      Students experiencing homelessness often fall behind their peers because of they are tired and worried.  Plus, this week is MCA testing!

  • Wijit Xiong says:

    April 29, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Affordable housing is amazing but besides that I would like to see what else that we can do to help parents to sustain a long term job so they don’t losing their housing after finding affordable housing. some of the parents find their own place but they become homeless again after 6 months or 1 year later. I understand that it is hard for some of the parents because they couldn’t find living wage jobs. Also, some of the parents couldn’t find work because they have a criminal background. What and how can we do to help these parents in order to be able to sustain afforable housing?

    • Kenza says:

      April 29, 2014 at 8:44 am

      Absolutely. For families, affordable housing is one piece of the triangle. In order to keep housing, families also need child care and transportation. It’s a three-legged: housing, child care, transportation. Both child care and transportation are huge issues, but I’m hopeful they’re going to be addressed. Once those are in place, keeping a job and keeping an apartment are much easier.

      The Legislature is on track to pass the Women’s Economic Security Act. It’s a good first step and shines light on the economic issues facing women and their families. Even something like paid sick leave would make a huge difference for families who are in low-paying jobs and have to chose between going to work or caring for a sick kid or elderly parent.

      Ban the box was another good step for helping people with criminal backgrounds have a fair shot applying for jobs. We know there is still an enormous uphill climb for people to get into housing with a criminal background. There are some local models that are intriguing and promising, like community living apartments that give people a chance to get stable, have a good renting record, etc. This is one of our biggest challenges in the housing community; there are no easy answers.

  • Joe says:

    April 29, 2014 at 8:28 am

    Kenza, What are some specific housing plans communities can implement that would help families find housing between now and the time bonding money is put to use?

    • Kenza Hadj-Moussa says:

      April 29, 2014 at 8:55 am

      Communities can fill vacant apartment units, partner with businesses who want to contribute to workforce housing shortages (a model practiced in GreaterMN), make sure people in need are connected to resources like Community Action Partnerships, MNSure, etc. Local communities can also do housing assessments to find out where the gaps are and make plans accordingly.

      Housing is such a local, community issue. So many important decisions are made at the neighborhood and city level. Helping neighborhoods overcome NIMBYism is important too.

    • Kenza Hadj-Moussa says:

      April 29, 2014 at 8:56 am

      Also, supporting housing near transportation. They go hand in hand.

  • Colleen O'Connor Toberman says:

    April 29, 2014 at 8:44 am

    I’m interested in the differences in how rural versus urban school districts address the problem. What’s working to help students find stability and success? What resources do schools need?

    • Anne McInerney says:

      April 29, 2014 at 9:00 am

      Many districts (urban and rural) rely on donations to provide school supplies, clothes, etc for students.  Some districts fund raise, others partner up with companies for donations, there are also private citizens that donate to the homeless programs in the districts. 
      Additional academic services will also differ.  For example, there are Title I funds to assist with additional academic support, but those funds are based on the number of free and reduced lunch students. 
      Every school district must have a homeless liaison who assists with the coordination of services and to figure out transportation for the students to return to their school of origin.  Larger districts have a specific job for this role, smaller districts have this role as an “add-on” to other duties.
      Schools need school supplies, donations to help individual families, and support staff (social workers, counselors) to assist students manage their emotions during their homelessness.

    • Kenza Hadj-Moussa says:

      April 29, 2014 at 9:05 am

      You bring up a good point that student homelessness isn’t just a metro area issue - rural districts have homeless and highly mobile students as well. Rural schools need staff.  The homeless liaison is also the principal or superintendent in many areas.  Nobody can do it all. Urban districts have homeless liaisons doing great work but who have so many students it is overwhelming them.

      Superintendents from across the state submitted a MinnPost commentary on students and housing stability this week:

      • Kenza Hadj-Moussa says:

        April 29, 2014 at 9:10 am

        BTW - We are so appreciative of school leaders for supporting housing investments and Homes for All. Superintendents, homeless liaison, and Education Minnesota have been impactful messengers for lawmakers and the public. I think in general, Minnesotans can’t believe children are homeless in our state. It’s hard for the public to understand.

        • Anne McInerney says:

          April 29, 2014 at 9:22 am

          I second that!  Thank you to all the supportive school leaders!  I think you are right, we don’t “see” homeless children because they are in schools, in shelter, doubled up etc, but they are out there.  Education about the issue and understanding of the situation will help our efforts.

  • Charlie Quimby says:

    April 29, 2014 at 9:06 am

    Since 2008, I’ve blogged about my experiences volunteering with the homeless (in the preschool at People Serving People in Minneapolis, and a day center in western Colorado.)

    Here’s a post from last spring that relates to the topic.

    I’d like to reinforce the comments about homelessness having many different causes, manifestations and family situations. It’s not some general condition, but a very specific set of stresses on each child experiencing it. I’ve seen great parents whose kids would do well at Blake, single parents completely overwhelmed and the spectrum in between. The post above talks about a single father trying his best, with the help of his employer and the teachers in the school, and still the child’s life is fragmented and difficult to imagine helping her academic development.

    We do need to address the larger causes of homeless, but we’ll never be entirely successful. And solutions that don’t help kids today can mean they will be behind for the rest of their lives.

    While I support more public funding for school programs and affordable housing, we can also take individual action by volunteering and contributing to excellent social services organizations like People Serving People.

  • Phyllis says:

    April 29, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Thanks for your good work! I always wonder when they close schools for cold weather, what homeless children do or where they go. God bless!

    • Anne McInerney says:

      April 29, 2014 at 9:28 am

      Sometimes they can stay in the shelters or with their family/friends.  We have had some families and youth ride the bus overnight and all day to keep warm. I’m always worried about what they will eat on those days and if they have warm coats and mittens.

    • Kenza Hadj-Moussa says:

      April 29, 2014 at 9:28 am

      Thank you, Phyllis.

      When school is closed, kids usually stay in shelters or doubled up with other families; however, we know there are instances of families living outside in cars or other places not meant for living.

      The director of People Serving People told me cabin fever was very high during the polar vortex at the shelter. Everyone was doing their best, but it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to be indoors with little space or privacy.

  • Kenza Hadj-Moussa says:

    April 29, 2014 at 9:22 am

    If you’d like to get involved with the Homes for All campaign or the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless we’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @MNHomelessCo.

    To get email updates:

    My email is .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

    Your public support makes an enormous difference. Thank you to everyone who has advocated for $100 million in bonds for housing this session!

  • nancy sager says:

    April 29, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Certainly justifiable for the sake of children and families to have the housing dollars available to secure adaquite living spaces and the stability it brings. Case management services are there to bring a plan to stabalize the family. If the child is removed from the family because they are homeless then that creates another issue. If case management can put a plan into place for the family to move forward then that also provides a positive impact to society. Better administrative management can assist in more dollars being available.

    • Kenza Hadj-Moussa says:

      April 29, 2014 at 9:30 am

      Well said, Nancy.

  • Anne McInerney says:

    April 29, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Thank you to everyone for participating today.  You can contact me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with more questions/comments.  Hopefully we can rally around affordable housing and help our children.

  • Kenza Hadj-Moussa says:

    April 29, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Thank you MN2020 for bringing attention to homeless students and for covering the housing crisis in the Uneven Recovery Report.

  • David Culver says:

    April 29, 2014 at 10:33 am

    First thing we’ve gotta do is get our priorities straight. That means building low income housing for the homeless and other marginal, vulnerable folks instead of wasting that money on housing for our professional jocks (Target Center, Target Field, Vikings, Saints). Recovered homeless and other marginal folks further economic growth; stadiums for jocks do not.

    But that won’t happen until and unless we get over our profound hatred for the poor and weak. (Matt Taibbi | America Has A ‘Profound Hatred Of The Weak And The Poor’ <>)

    Other metro areas have found the truth of what I’m saying and acting on it. It’s time for the Twin Cities Metro area to get with the program!

  • Pam Johnson says:

    April 29, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Great information sharing and dialogue, Kenza and Anne! Thank you for mentioning Community Action Partnerships as a good source for resources to support Minnesotans who are homeless or in transition. Minnesota Community Action Partnership is a member of the Homes for All Coalition and strongly supports the $100 M bonding request for affordable housing this Session.  In case folks don’t know where their local Community Action Agency is, here’s a link: 
    Thanks! Pam Johnson, Minnesota Community Action Partnership

  • C Reed says:

    April 29, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    My young daughter and I struggled and suffered during a homeless time in 2012. I was able to get into a shelter but the restrictions were not always fair and helpful for her school projects. We had to go out in the night to cash my checks to pay for the room instead of simply waiting until the next morning. We both were exhausted and couldn’t get a bus back and had to walk. We were asked to leave once because my daughter misplaced her check stub and we had no housing for that night. It was horrible! My daughter hated me and she had to really concentrate to keep her grades up in school. At one shelter we couldn’t have decent snacks for personal use. The food served was sometimes little more than slop. Candy, chips, pop, and the like are not ideal for young students. We were also asked to leave when my daughter had a project that had to be finished off property. We were given no consideration and were treated like criminals for requesting something that normal people do. Being homeless was a hard lesson in the nature of human kind. Students have to be super strong while their parents grapple with this kind of horrible monster. We also were not able to save anything to get out of the situation. Every bit of my money and hers was taken to pay for the shelter. We were static and for a while I didn’t know what to do. But she did her very best but this trauma has left her scarred. My daughter needed a home, she did not need the added stress of watching her mother suffering for no good reason. Landlords need incentives for helping homeless families. We should have been able to save our money to get out of that situation as quickly as possible. Thank you for asking about that traumatic time of our lives.