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December 30, 2011 > Homework - But No Home

Homework - But No Home

Submitted By Katie Derrig

The house is pink, with a green roof, a door, and two front windows. Underneath it, the artist has drawn green spikes to represent grass; above it, pink and yellow birds circle under a yellow sun.

The artist, a 5-year-old participant in the Children's Program at Abode Services, describes her dream house this way: "My home has a roof so rain cannot come in, and windows so the sun can shine through."

Like the other children in Abode Services' programs assisting homeless individuals and families, the artist comes from a household that has recently been - or still is - without a place to live. Such children have often endured frequent moves, crowded in with family or friends, lived in motels, or been forced to sleep in cars or outdoors with their families.

In addition to the other physical, emotional, and developmental consequences children experience from not having a home, one of the most damaging long-term effects is the difficulty homeless children face in school. Because they tend to move frequently, homeless children often switch schools mid-year or miss whole days or weeks at a time. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, only 77% of homeless children attend school regularly.

To Kevin and Carol Quinn, retired Newark teachers who tutor at Sunrise Village, Abode Services' emergency shelter, the children's lack of sustained relationships with their instructors is obvious.

"Some of the children at Sunrise have moved so often that none of their teachers had the time to work with them individually," Kevin says. "As we sit with children once a week, many of them soak up our attention like a sponge - they're not used to it."

The stress and health problems that homeless children experience, including asthma and other chronic and acute conditions, also prevent them from being able to concentrate fully on their schoolwork and on developing friendships with their classmates.

For the approximately one million children that the U.S. Department of Education estimates are homeless and in school, there are resources available. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, originally passed in 1987, requires public schools to minimize potential barriers to accessing education. Homeless children can attend school even if their birth certificates or immunization records are lost, for example, and can remain at their school of origin if they move. Each school district must designate a liaison responsible for coordinating with school officials and advocating for homeless students and their families.

The good news is that the number of homeless families has been going down, at least in the immediate area; the rate of family homelessness fell 22% in Alameda County during the past two years.

Nevertheless, for school-aged children in families struggling just to get back on their feet, every day spent without a home is an anxious one. The stress also wears on their parents, who are torn between meeting their children's immediate needs, and wanting to give them access to the education they need to have a better life.

"They are busy dealing with lots of other 'stuff,'" says Carol Quinn about the parents of the children she tutors, "and having us help with the homework, at least once a week, gives them a break."

For more information about Abode Services or to learn about volunteer tutoring opportunities, please visit www.abodeservices.org.

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