United Way’s recently publicized goal to lower absenteeism rates among homeless students has gained momentum with news that A Child’s Place is responding with a middle-school initiative to tackle the issue.

The Charlotte Housing Authority, A Child’s Place and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools announced Monday they are creating an initiative to tackle the growing numbers of homeless children within the CMS school system.

Called A Stable Home, the initiative will provide 50 housing vouchers to homeless families with children enrolled in any one of 15 select schools. Along with a stable home, the families will receive services to help children do better in school and parents achieve financial stability.

Once the parents are back on their feet, the voucher will go to another family and the process will start anew, officials said.

CMS says more than 4,100 students have reported being homeless at some point during the school year.

“An increasing number of educated and working families are not able to make ends meet, forcing them into devastating circumstances and children suffer,” said Fulton Meachem Jr, president of the Charlotte Housing Authority. “Our goal is to help homeless children and their families go from crisis to stability and from stability to normalcy so that they may succeed in life.”

Mecklenburg County conducted a count of homeless people in January and found the number of families with children continues to outpace services. As a result, agencies like the Salvation Army Center of Hope shelter for women and children remain above capacity.

Lack of housing stability significantly hurts students’ ability to do well in school, which often leaves them two to three grade levels behind, experts say.

A Child’s Place is the portal for families entering the program. The agency also intends to provide school-based services to the families for up to three years after they move into subsidized home.

“Imagine trying to study for a reading quiz in an overcrowded motel room or trying to get a restful night sleep on the floor of a friend’s apartment,” said Susan B. Hansell, executive director of A Child’s Place. “By working together, A Stable Home will not only help families find stable housing, but also help our students overcome issues around absenteeism, improve their school performance and develop a passion for learning.”

Sixteen families have already been awarded vouchers. Among them is a 32-year-old mother of two, who became homeless when she escaped domestic abuse. Her children are 13 and 7, and the three lived for nine months with a relative before finding help through A Stable Home.

She says her children are doing better in school since the family moved into a home and she has gotten a promotion at work. “This program makes me want to push to do better, because you realize someone is there helping you,” she says. “It gives you hope.”

CMS will provide families in the program with food, transportation to and from school, and academic support.

By Mark Price, msprice@charlottobserver.com
The Charlotte Observer 
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