DWC Program Focuses on Homeless Children in Charlotte County

Right now there are 320 K-12 identified homeless children in Charlotte County spread over 21 schools. Renee Rebhan, the Homeless Education and Foster Care Liaison to the Charlotte County Public Schools, shared her program’s efforts and challenges in ensuring every child’s right to an education at the February 10 meeting of the Democratic Women’s Club.

Rebhan noted many challenges facing homeless school children, including hunger, lack of sleep, cleanliness, and frequent moves leading to gaps in education. Homeless children often lack a quiet place to do homework and the technology so often required to complete that homework. Identifying these children is also difficult as many homeless families fear identification will lead to children being removed from the family and separations.

Charlotte County’s Homeless Education Project works to identify homeless children and unaccompanied youth, to provide assistance in obtaining the necessary documents for school enrollment, to assist with transportation, and to make referrals and provide assistance for health services. The project also makes referrals for tutoring and community service providers. Parents can get help with obtaining educational resources. There is also assistance for getting on school meal programs. So that children can fully participate in school, there is also help available for activity fees. The program monitors the students’ academic success and coordinates services.

The governmental definition of homelessness also plays a part in identifying homeless children and getting them and their families into the assistance process. Rehban informed the audience that the current narrow HUD definition excludes many children who are in dire need of assistance. Rebhan notes that data from other federal agencies show significantly higher numbers of homeless children. Rebhan would prefer the definition included in the McKinney-Vento Act, which would include many children living in emergency shelters, motels, hotels, trailer parks, cars, parks, public spaces, or abandoned buildings, and those sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing or financial problems. The HUD definition excludes many of these children.

Rebhan supports the federals bill HR2001. The SchoolHouse Connection Web site reports “The bipartisan Homeless Children and Youth Act (HR 2001) addresses shortcomings in HUD’s data and other policies on homeless families and youth. It aligns HUD’s definition of homelessness with those of other federal agencies and permits communities to use HUD homeless funding more flexibly to assess and serve the most vulnerable homeless children, youth, and families identified in their area. While the legislation is focused on children and youth, it ultimately would reduce homelessness among all populations by helping to prevent today’s homeless children and youth from becoming tomorrow’s homeless adults.”

In a call to action, Rebhan suggested supporting HR 2001 and volunteering as a mentor for the local program. Anyone interested in volunteering as a mentor should call her at 941-255-7480.

The next meeting of the Democratic Women’s Club will be on March 9 at 6:00 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Democratic Club’s facility at 3596 Tamiami Trail, Unit 102 in Port Charlotte. Anyone interested in membership can contact the DWC at dwcofcharlottecounty@gmail.com. Check out our Web site at dwccharlotte.com and follow us on Facebook at Charlotte County Democratic Women’s Club.