The term homelessness often conjures up images of down-and-out individuals living under bridges or on a city street, but when it comes to classifying children as homeless, it’s more about whether or not a child has adequate housing.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was enacted as federal law in 1987 and, in part, ensures that every child in the United States, regardless of their home situation, receives an education.
Following the guidelines set forth by the McKinney-Vento Act, Pocahontas County Schools Homeless Liaison Ron Hall keeps track of students who are classified as homeless and provides them with the proper materials for school.
“If you look at what it [the Act] says about homeless – if they live in a camper; if they live in a trailer court; if they live with grandparents; if they live in a multi-family household – they’re homeless,” Hall said.
Hall said there are 34 students who are classified as homeless, but that number does not fully represent all of Pocahontas County. It is difficult to identify a student as homeless because parents worry the children will be removed from the home.
When identifying a child as homeless, Hall said it doesn’t mean the child is in danger and needs to be taken from his or her home. It means the child is living in a situation that is not considered ideal by the federal government’s standards.
“The way we live in West Virginia is a different life than what people are living elsewhere, so I don’t know how they come up with those guidelines,” Hall said.
Regardless, when a child is classified as homeless, there are many requirements Hall has to follow to ensure they receive an education.
“You have to accept that child,” he said. “You have to figure out a way. That’s my job, to make sure if they are taken by CPS [Child Protective Services] or moved to a different part of the county – say, for instance, somebody at Hillsboro is taken to Green Bank and put in foster placement, they’re allowed to still attend school at Hillsboro, and I have to see that that happens. Now, fortunately, we have not been called on that, but if we are, we have to run a bus or we have to provide transportation somehow. That’s our job. That’s our responsibility.”
Hall added that even if a child does not have all the proper paperwork – such as a birth certificate – to enroll in school, the school system must still accept the child and assist in locating the proper paperwork for him or her.
Hall also receives funding through Title I to buy items for students who are classified as homeless. While he cannot use the funds to pay rent or bills for the family, he can buy clothing and school supplies for the students.
“I’ve had to buy them clothes,” Hall said. “I can buy anything for school. But I can’t pay rent or anything like that.”
The funding also provided after-school programs for homeless children, but unfortunately that funding will end after this school year.
“I was getting after-school for homeless kids,” Hall said. “I don’t have enough kids identified to get that anymore. You’ve got to have more than a hundred. Well, our county only has nine-hundred and some kids. There’s no way that I can identify more than a hundred, so I lost that funding and lost my after-school from it.”
Despite the loss in some funding, Hall said he isn’t worried. Between the Title I funding, which is dolled out by superintendent and federal programs director Terrence Beam and donations made by local organizations and churches, the homeless children of Pocahontas County are well cared for.
“I’ve never run out of money, and we never will,” he said. “We’ll never run out of clothes or food or anything because we have so many churches and people who help.”
For more information on homeless classification, contact Hall at 304-799-4505, extension 2244.