There are some stories where finding enough sources to talk to is difficult. My piece for June’s edition of ASBJ wasn’t one of them. News stories and reports had been trickling in that the homeless population had been soaring because of the recession.
And they weren’t your stereotypical image of homeless. More and more families were being displaced as they lost jobs, lost savings and eventually lost their homes. These were people who never dreamed of having to be in a position where their very livelihood was dependent on others.
“I had one parent call me and say, ‘I used to volunteer at the food bank and now I have to ask for food,’” said Barbara James, the project director for the Texas Homeless Education Office.
James was one of nearly a dozen people I talked to that illuminated just how difficult it can be for homeless families to get back on their feet, let alone for a homeless student to maintain their education.
“I heard one time that a homeless family had to meet with 32 different agencies every week,” James told me. “How do you that when you don’t even have a car?”
Like all states, the Texas office that James runs is charged with implementing the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the federal law that requires school districts to remove as many barriers as possible to enable students to continue their education.
But unlike other states, with the exception of Virginia, the Texas office is operated out of a university, which James takes advantage of through numerous interdisciplanary collaborations within the University of Texas, Austin, including conferences with the school of social work and a current project by the school of public affairs that looks at what makes a good homeless liaison and what leads to their burnout.
“We can’t compartmentalize homelessness, it transcends so many areas,” James said. “Yet in everything in education; in schools, in federal programs, we departmentalize everything and I think if we collaborated more we’d get a lot better performance.”
Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor