(SPRINGFIELD, Ky.) – Each year, school districts and communities across the nation address the ongoing issue of youth homelessness. The Washington County School District is no exception. Chad Willis, who works in the WCSD as Director of Pupil Personnel and Principal of Commander Academy, and who also serves as the homeless liaison for the district, said there are currently 28 students across the district who have been identified as homeless.

Students are identified as homeless based on a list of specific criteria of eligibility under the education subtitle of the McKinney-Veto Act. (For a complete definition of homeless, visit https://nche.ed.gov).   If a student is living in a shelter, motel or campground due to lack of an alternative adequate accommodations, in a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, or has doubled up with others due to loss of housing or economic hardship, they could qualify for certain rights and protections under the act. All circumstances are taken into consideration, and each individual situation must be investigated in order to determine the correct qualification. “Bus drivers, teachers and FRYSC [Family Resource and Youth Services Centers at each school] are a big help with identifying kids,” says Willis. “At the elementary age, students will open up more about living conditions. At the high school level, students do not let people know as much. Unless a kid tells someone, you may not know that a high school kid is living on a friend’s couch every night or that a boyfriend was kicked out of their house and is living with a girlfriend.”

Once a student is identified as homeless, the district ensures that assistance is extended. Jesse Mattingly, who serves as the FRYSC Coordinator for Washington County Elementary School and Washington County Middle School, said the center aids as a support system for the family by assisting with locating housing such as shelters outside the county or by finding temporary housing to reside while they search for a permanent home. “FRYSC utilizes community resources [including] Community Action, Salvation Army, St. Vincent DePaul, and local churches to assist with emergency funds,” says Mattingly. “Once the family is safe and has adequate shelter, FRYSC assists them with trying to locate permanent housing. Once the location is found, FRYSC assists with providing items for the home to ensure the family’s basic needs are met. FRYSC has also assisted parents/guardians with locating employment, applying for SNAP benefits and signing up for case management, which teaches skills to eliminate financial barriers for the family.”

Lee Anne Ater, who serves as the Director of Federal and State Programs for the WCSD, says that a portion of Title I federal funds allotted to the district are also set aside to provide services for homeless children. “We must ensure that homeless children and youths have equal access to the same free, appropriate public education provided to all students of Washington County. Students who meet homeless criteria must not face barriers to accessing academic and extracurricular activities. Our homeless liaison works at identifying and removing barriers that would prevent homeless children and youths from being successful.”

For questions or help, contact Mr. Willis at 859-336-2116 or the Washington County Board of Education at 859-336-5470.