The number of homeless students enrolled in Madison schools is on the upswing, according to data released by the Madison Metropolitan School District.
Tara Wallace, a social worker for MMSD, said the district currently has 761 children without homes enrolled for the 2013-14 school year, a number up from this time last year. At the end of the 2012-13 school year, 1,263 homeless children attended district schools, Wallace said.
The number of homeless students typically rises throughout the year from September to June, she said. District employees are concerned 761 students is already a high number for the new school year, she said.
There are homeless children attending all 49 Madison district schools, Wallace said. She said under the 2002 McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, homeless students are defined as “those lacking regular and adequate nighttime residence.”
The federal act is designed to reduce barriers for enrollment, attendance and academic achievement for students, according to a statement from the school district. Wallace said the act also designated a “homeless liaison” in every school district.
“We try to provide support [for homeless students] at a universal level,” Wallace said. ”We give mental health support, health support and dental referrals as provided by law.”
MMSD offers the Transition Education Program to provide students with equal access to educational opportunities, Wallace said. She said the program provides transportation support, supplies and resources and also helps with enrollment and school selection for students.
Homeless children are often transitioning from school to school as their families move, which can cause students to suffer psychologically, socially and academically, according to the report.
Several of the district’s elementary schools are also trying a new after school program, called Red Caboose After School, that provides “welcoming and goodbye programs” for children.
Brenda Konkel, a local advocate for the homeless community, said she believes the school district’s efforts are helping address the issue of homelessness in the area.
“I think schools are really doing a good job,” Konkel said. “They have good programs to help these families who are in a bad condition.”
Madison has ten shelter programs that offer a total of 347 beds, according to the statement. However, only four shelters accept families. Combined, these four shelters offer 151 beds.
Konkel said the rising number of homeless residents in Madison is “a nightmare.” The housing shortage in Madison goes beyond low-income families’ inability to acquire and maintain housing, she said.
“We need more affordable shelters,” Konkel said. “But I don’t see this happening.”
Families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population in the United States, the statement said. More than one million children in the U.S. were identified as homeless in 2011 and more than 40 percent of homeless children are under the age of five.
Wallace said the best way schools can help homeless children is to combat the assumptions people make about students based on their homelessness.
“It’s really about trying to [eliminate] the stigma associated with homelessness,” Wallace said.