The Sequim School District joins other districts across the nation in helping homeless students and their families through the McKinney-Vento program.
“It’s a really difficult problem to address,” David Lyke, manager of the district’s McKinney-Vento program, said. “Even just defining whether or not a student is homeless can be tricky.”
A student doesn’t have to be living on the street to qualify for help through McKinney-Vento. According tot he National Center for Homeless Education, qualifying students can be in any of the following situations:
• Sharing housing due to economic hardship or loss of housing
• Living in “motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camp grounds due to lack of alternative accommodations”
• Living in “emergency or transitional shelters”
• Primary nighttime residence is not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (e.g. park benches, etc.)
• Living in “cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations”
Essentially, any students whose family doesn’t have a regular, reliable place to live can qualify for McKinney-Vento services.
What can be done
“There’s not a lot that we do directly; we help educate teachers and staff on how to identify and talk to students who need our help,” Lyke said of the program.
“Once they’re brought to our attention we evaluate their situation and start finding the kind of resources that they need in the community.”
Once a student has been identified as qualifying for McKinney-Vento, Lyke and Renee Alcafaras — the district’s Title 1 program manager — work to connect that student with groups in the community that can help. From services such as housing assistance, food assistance or whatever else they need, Lyke said it’s his job to act as a bridge between students and the resources they need.
“We’re here to get these students the help they need,” he said. “There’s groups and people out there who can help, we just have to make sure they know who needs the help and get them connected to the right people.”
According to Lyke, Sequim’s McKinney-Vento program has local resources like Rotary Club of Sequim, Serenity House, Olympic Peninsula YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula, St. Vincent De Paul and a number of interested individuals to call on to help students and families in need, among other local groups.
A greater need
One of the greatest challenges for any McKinney-Vento program, Lyke says, is identifying the students who need their help.
“It’s such a stigma that has to be overcome,” he said. “These students just aren’t comfortable talking about it. Just finding out about their situation is probably the biggest hurdle.”
Lyke said that while there were around 100 students in Sequim being helped by McKinney-Vento at the end of the 2018-2019 school year, the actual number of students that would qualify was probably a “good amount” higher.
“We’re really working hard to make sure we can identify the students who need us better,” Lyke said. “What I would honestly love to see would be for us to be helping fewer and fewer students all the time, but know that we’re helping as close to all of those in need that we can.
“Right now, we just don’t know that.”
Another challenge is that Like is on a contract with the school district for just five hours a week.
“That’s not a lot of time to do this, but I do what I can with that time,” he said.
That makes it all the more important that he can identify those in need and connect them to those in the community who can help that need, because time is always of the essence when one isn’t sure where they’re spending the night.
For more information on McKinney-Vento program, contact Lyke at firstname.lastname@example.org.