Cleveland Schools Received No Funding from Competitive Grant For Homeless Kids in Ohio


We were notified that the Cleveland Municipal School District would not receive any funds this year from the competitive funding program for homeless children.  This is nearly one third of their total allocation from the State of Ohio to serve homeless children in the district who become homeless during the school year.  Obviously, these funds are not divided by need since Toledo received $0 in 2017 and now Cleveland will get $0 in 2018.  Lorain City Schools also is not going to receive any funds this year.  I could not find the figures for how many homeless children were in each district, but Cleveland saw over 3,000 kids in the district in 2016. We also know that homeless families are on the rise in Cleveland with long waits in the overflow shelter while a bed opens up in the three remaining family shelters. 

In case you do not know, the Cleveland Municipal School District Project ACT program is over 25 years old and will do whatever it takes to get a homeless child back into school as soon as possible.  They help with transportation, uniforms, identification, tutors, and advocacy to make sure that all the children experiencing homelessness do not fall behind.  They visit all the shelters to see if there are any homeless children that are not getting help, and they will work with the surrounding district to make sure that if the child is homeless from Parma they can return to that district to complete their studies for the year.  Project ACT provides tutors to keep the kids at grade level.  So, if their entire home life evaporates at least their school life is preserved and often enhanced with Project ACT. 

The State of Ohio said that they did not fill out a very good grant this year, and obviously Parma did a better job.  Well, I would ask the State officials to come up here and get 3,000 kids back to school quickly and try to keep those kids at grade level while also filling out some stupid grant request.  Why isn't this need based?  Cleveland has to have the first or second highest number of homeless kids in the state.  We should get this money just because we take care of so many kids.  I guess we will have to figure out a transportation system to Toledo and Parma for all our homeless kids in the district since they got the Cleveland money this year. 

Brian Davis

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Post Script:

Replying to 

We will continue to support our students through other resources while we address this with ODE. There will be NO reductions in service!

Thanks to Project ACT Children and Youth Program

I love the Homeless Children and Youth Program at the Cleveland Public Schools. It is a model program that works to get a child back into school as soon as possible after their housing falls apart.  They also provide wrap around services to help a child during their homelessness to help them stay at grade level when their home life is in chaos.   I have worked with Dr. Marcia Zashin of Project ACT for 23 years. 

In fact, NEOCH would probably be out of business if it were not for Project ACT.  When I started at NEOCH, the organization had no staff and was basically only publishing the street newspaper, the Homeless Grapevine.  I was volunteering to keep the paper going while bartending at night.  Dr. Zashin had worked with the previous director to apply for an AmeriCorps*VISTA program for NEOCH and the school district.  Our request was granted and we had to find a place for 11 VISTAs to be divided between the two agencies.  It was too difficult for a huge organization like the school district to handle the administrative burden of working with the federal government, so NEOCH was the lead.  Spencer Wells at the Cleveland Tenants Organization took over NEOCH and hired me to administer the Coalition.  We went from all volunteers to five full time staff working on homeless issues. 

We had to restart the public education, advocacy, training, Street Card, street voices, and anything else these new college graduates who were AmeriCorps*VISTAs wanted to work on.  They did some nice work on investigative stories in the paper, and began to go to the shelters to hear about the horrible conditions.  The other VISTAs stationed over at Project ACT helped expand the Cleveland Public Schools tutoring program, set up a hotline and worked to provide care packages for the families who are experiencing homelessness.  The VISTA's working over at Project ACT set up these great partnerships with artistic organizations so families living in the shelters could go visit the Playhouse or Near West Theatre to participate in art projects.

This partnership blossomed statewide so we were eventually working with every large school district in Ohio.  The programs all expanded and did some great work in the 1990s and early 2000s until VISTA decided that we would have to pay for the VISTAs (time limits).  Instead of focusing on the good work that the VISTAs were doing in Ohio, federal officials focused on how long the program had been at an agency.  We were changing their goals and the VISTAs turned over every year, but the Corporation for National Service decided to give this resource to some other group in the community.  This does not build loyalty for the program, which now that VISTA is on the chopping block it is going to be hard to get groups to rally around the VISTA federal program. 

The NEOCH board saw the value of the organization because we had four staff working on things in Cleveland with our partnership with Project ACT as we stabilized.  The VISTAs were working on creating programs to reduce poverty locally.  The VISTAs spent their time on starting programs like Voice Mail, Bridging the Gap, Homeless Legal Assistance, expanding the paper and various art projects.  They contributed so much to homeless people living in Cleveland, and much of it had to do with Project ACT.  We gave Dr. Zashin the Ione Biggs Award last year for her decades of service in Cleveland.  The other great thing about the Homeless Children and Youth program is that they have great about keeping track of the homeless kids.   They have a much broader definition of homelessness, and so if you do not have a place to live the schools consider you homeless.  In the rest of the system, if you can answer 13 questions and did not just get out of jail, you are homeless.  There is no confusion in the schools. 

Thanks for the appreciation, but I appreciate Project ACT as well.

Brian Davis

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Homeless CMSD Student Goes to Harvard

This is not a photo of Mr. Boone. This is a photo taken by one of the Grapevine photo students who had previous experience with homelessness

Margaret Bernstein is correct in her commentary about homeless students this weekend, but she really never gave us anyway to make sure that no student has to sleep on the bleachers again. This should be obvious and in a society that can build casinos, shining cathedrals, and beautiful courthouses, we should never have a child sleeping outside.  Unfortunately, there were very few solutions in Ms. Bernstein's commentary that would have prevented Boone from sleeping outside.  Mentorships are great, having more scholarships are excellent, and lifting children out of poverty are needed, but none of those things would have paid for a place for Boone to have lived when his family dissolved.   And by the way, it takes government funds and taxes to assure that every child has a quality education and a place to live.   After all, the private sector is not going to provide a lease to someone 18 to 22 years old while hundreds of more attractive (on paper) tenants are applying for the apartments available in our community, and a child in high school under age 18 cannot sign a lease or contract.   So, what do we do with unaccompanied youth who couch surf or sleep on bleachers in our community? 

First, it has to be made clear that this is not an overwhelming problem.  There are about 2,500 to 4,000 students who become homeless in the Cleveland Public Schools, but very few of those are not in contact with a parent or guardian.  The schools found about 350 to 600 students spent sometime estranged from their family.  The shelters and services only document a couple dozen youth in the same situation as David Boone.  A small amount of funding could make a huge difference in the community. Here are some suggestions from NEOCH that would actually prevent students from falling all the way to the streets.

Boost the Project ACT program with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District

This is the Title I funded Homeless Children and Youth program for the Cleveland Schools.   They work with teachers to make sure that the kids stay in school and can go to their school of origin if the family becomes homeless. They provide tutors and other help to keep the child from falling behind.  Since teachers are typically the first in our community to recognize a problem, Project ACT is a cornerstone for recognizing and addressing the problem.  Their mandate is to stabilize the child's education, and Project ACT does a fantastic job on getting a kid back into school within 24 hours after a family being identified as homeless.  A couple of things we could do would be for the state to designate the Homeless Children and Youth projects in the 10 largest cities to become the regional authority for all the surrounding school districts.  So, if a child from Orange School District or Parma School District becomes homeless the Cleveland Public Schools would handle their case and assure that they can return to their school of origin quickly.  Instead of having to rely on the 33 districts in Cuyahoga County to do the right thing for the family, the Cleveland Schools should be in the lead and the other schools should follow their recommendations. CMSD has the largest staff and they deal with this issue everyday.

If we are serious about never having another David Boone sleep on bleachers, these Homeless Children and Youth Projects should be the lead in providing housing assistance to these school age children.  They should take the lead as the advocate for the child/young adult on the best placement to stabilize their housing to assure they receive a quality education.  They could negotiate between the juvenile justice, foster care system, families or friends to find them the best housing available.  The student would be assigned an advocate who would help with these decisions, and it would be the responsibility of the advocate to make sure that the young person has a place to call home.  This is going to involve some funding increases to hire advocates in the major cities in the school districts. Unless someone in our community is assigned this responsibility then it falls through the cracks.  Unpaid mentors are great and a big benefit, but at the end of the day we need someone who would not rest until the young person has a stable place.

Educate the Suburban Schools

As part of "No Child Left Behind" and the McKinney Vento law every suburban school district (and charter school) is mandated to appoint a liaison for a child that becomes homeless.  We have a list here.  The problem is that these liaisons are not mandated any training or given any guidance on what they are supposed to do if they find a homeless child in their district.  Who do they call? What do they need to do?  All of these liaisons should be required to have state funded training about homelessness and their responsibilities to homeless children.  A better system would be to provide training and have the major cities homeless children and youth would be your first call to develop a plan to get the child back into school as soon as possible and then find wrap around services to help the child. 

Find Stable Funding for An Outreach Program

If the teacher does not find these students is there someone in the community who will look out for kids who are falling through the gaps?  Is there a group that will go out to the malls, libraries and other places to see if their are kids abandoned by their family?  Is there are program like the Bellfaire Youth Project that can build a trusting relationship with these young people?  Is there are stable source of funding to make sure that they are covering the county?  Where should these funds come from, and how many outreach workers does a community need to cover the county are issues that the state or county government needs to make.  

Once a Child is found in danger of homelessness what do you do?

St. Paul's church on the near West Side of Cleveland has partnered with Bellfaire to open their doors to young people so they are not running the street and being recruited by criminals.  They also have an outreach component to go out and talk to neighbors and store owners in the near West Side about any issues with young people.  Heights Youth Club has a similar approach to serve kids from the east side heights in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club.  Does each neighborhood have safe spaces like these for young people to go that will exercise their body and mind?  If there are not these places kids will find negative relationships to fill their time.  Again, these spaces are extremely valuable to the community, and need to be supported with public dollars. 

Housing for Young People

As we stated above there are very few landlords willing to lease to young people.  The YWCA and the Sisters of Charity Foundation are working on addressing the problem of homelessness among homeless young people.  They are building housing with support services for this population especially young people who age out of the foster care system and then become homeless.   Communities were only given permission by the federal government, in the last few years, to begin to serve this population with supportive housing, and these two groups are taking the lead in trying to meet this need.  Providing housing to any population is expensive, and it is going to take corporate, government, school districts and the religious community all coming together to meet this need with resources and services.  We are not sure what the exact number of people who need this help every year, but there are studies underway.   Cleveland can solve this problem if we can get our political leadership to answer Ms. Bernstein's call to end homelessness for anymore David Boones.  We cannot build a couple of units and rest.  We need to fully meet the need for housing dedicated to serving young people, because doing anything less is far more expensive.  If we lose these kids, we lose them for decades.  Taxpayers will be responsible for their housing, food, incarceration, and hospitalization for life if we lose them during their high school career.  So, the two to three years of housing provided while a young person finds a job, completes their education and can pay their own rent is a great down payment on saving all the costs of homelessness for a community.

Brian Davis

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