The Rochester City School District says they are seeing a similar increase of homeless students in the district.
In just the first three months of the school year, the district has identified 1,000 students who are homeless. In the entire 2011-2012 school year, the district identified 2,000 homeless students.
Elizabeth Reyes is the Associate Director of the district’s Homeless Education Program. She says many homeless students are identified using the district’s residency questionnaire at the beginning of the year, but there are many parents who also move into the district without a place to live.
“They've come from somewhere else, from outside of New York state to Rochester and they don't have an apartment waiting for them,” Reyes says. “They are living with family members and friends so our homeless student numbers have gone up due to those reasons.”
Both the district and YWCA says the rental market in Rochester is oversaturated. People who could, at one point, afford to own their home have lost their homes and started renting thus leaving very few rental homes available for those who need affordable housing.
Reyes says the Homeless Education Program works hard to not only identify students who are homeless but to give their teachers the support they need to help these students.
Many times teachers are the ones who refer parents to the program once they find out a student is homeless.
Reyes says there are many things the district can do to help these students.
“For example, it's hard to do homework when you have a family of five staying in a hotel,” she explains. “There may not even be a table. It's hard to get homework done with so many people in one room so we advise teachers to let students do homework at school.”
Often times, school is the most stable environment homeless students have, so Reyes says teachers and counselors are there to offer support.
Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the district also provides transportation to homeless students to and from school. Whether they are staying at a relative’s home, a shelter or a hotel, the students have a way to get to school. The district also provides bus passes to students who may have to move locations day-to-day.
“A lot of times, I see despair and hopelessness,” Reyes says. “[The students] wonder if this will pass and I can affirm that it will get better. They’re at a time and moment when they are dealing with so many losses.”
Despite their struggles, Tasha says it’s actually her children who have helped her through her homeless experience.
“If I'm sad or something they'll ask me what's wrong,” Tasha says. “That's mainly my motivation, my children.”
She says she hopes her three children, especially her two daughters who are in grade school, learn from this experience.
“It kind of teaches them and it shows them that in life, if you don't pursue an education you may end up [where I am].”
Tasha says she knows better days are ahead. She recently found a full-time job and hopes to be able to move out of the YWCA in December. While she is thankful for the help she’s received at the shelter, she wants a home to call her own.
“I look forward to being in my own nesting place. It's just a different feeling.”
The YWCA says several local agencies are working on a coordinated response to help the homeless population. They are working to bundle resources so people have easier access to help.
The YWCA also works to identify lenient landlords who may help people move out of shelters back into homes.