Jun 25 2014

We have homeless students???

You may have seen homeless adults sleeping on the streets, behind convenience stores, on park benches, or heading up to the forest to camp. But did you know that we have homeless students in Lincoln County and Mescalero?
You may not see them sleeping on the streets, but they are a part of a “new” reality in our community. They sleep in cars, “couch-surf” at friends’ houses, or live with their family under the same roof with one or more families or in substandard housing. That doesn’t sound so bad, you say? Imagine if you were 16 years old and didn’t know where you were going to sleep tonight or where your next meal was coming from or how you were going to get your homework done or wondering if your classmates will notice your dirty clothes. And those are just a few of the immediate issues. The long-term concerns are “Will I be able to hang on long enough to graduate? Will I ever be normal or is my life going to always be like this? Does anybody care?” Luisa Rodriguez, a licensed social worker in the counseling department at Ruidoso High School reports that 40 students or roughly 4% of the student population were identified as homeless this past school year and there are probably more that have not been identified.
According to The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2001, http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/pg116.html, the term homeless children and youth “means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and includes children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement; children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and migratory children.”
Schools and regional service centers receiving federal monies are required to provide services to ensure that students have every opportunity to succeed in school and graduate. Our schools are working hard to offer assistance during the school day and there are a few afterschool programs offered and these are very necessary. The NEST offers shelter to some students who are victims of abuse and churches and agencies like the Boys and Girls Clubs offer help in various ways. The students need all of that and the community is grateful for those who reach out in whatever ways they can. But the fact of the matter is that a comprehensive safety net is needed so that students can not only have a successful educational experience during the day but be safe and nurtured after the school day ends until the next school day begins. To that end, a “Homeless Students Task Force” has formed and is working to ensure that all children in Lincoln County and Mescalero grow up educated, healthy, loved, respected, and ready for higher education and/or the workforce. Members of the faith community, school personnel, representatives from social service agencies, philanthropists, and other concerned folk have identified unmet needs of homeless students, with a starting point of helping the high school homeless population. An evening “drop-in” shelter is needed so that students can wash clothes, shower, eat a nutritious meal, do homework, have wholesome recreation, and have access to counselors and coordinated social services. An overnight shelter with trained personnel is needed to provide a safe and secure night for the students. And these shelters are needed every day and night of the week, including weekends. Anyone interested in being part of this task force is welcome to attend the meetings on the 4th Tuesday of each month at 9:00 AM in the Parish Hall of the Church of the Holy Mount, 121 Mescalero Trail, Ruidoso. (575-257-2356)