There are nearly 800 homeless students in Virginia Beach. What’s being done about it?

VIRGINIA BEACH — There are many faces of homelessness and they are not all adults. In fact, there are hundreds of children who live in this city who are also experiencing homelessness.

Take the 2017-2018 school year — there were 794 students identified as homeless by officials at Virginia Beach City Public Schools, said Sondra Woodward, Virginia Beach City Public Schools spokeswoman

The school district has noticed the trend has been toward an increase in the number of homeless students in recent years, she said.

Identifying them

The school district is able to identify those students using resources and funds from Project HOPE.

Project HOPE – Virginia, the Virginia Program for the Education of Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness, is a federally-funded grant authorized by Subtitle VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

In order for a student to be identified as homeless Project HOPE has to first receive a Domicile Form from the family that includes basic demographic information, housing situation and services/resources that are needed, Woodward said.

The form is then processed by Project HOPE and assigned to a VBCPS social worker to verify the housing situation and an eligibility determination is then made, she said.

Project HOPE updates the primary nighttime residence in the online student database and notifies the appropriate social worker.

Any child who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence is considered homeless through federal legislation, Woodward said.

Project HOPE ensures the enrollment, attendance and success of children and youth in school who are experiencing homelessness through public awareness efforts across the state and through sub-grants to local school divisions that develop customized programs to meet the needs of homeless children and youth in their area, according to the Project HOPE website.

Placing them

Once a student has been identified as homeless they must be immediately enrolled in school, Woodward said.

According to the McKinney-Vento Assistance Act, homeless children have the right to immediately enroll in school even if they do not have required documents or have missed application enrollment deadlines during any period of homelessness.

Students have the right to attend the “school of origin,” which is either the school they attended before becoming homeless or were last enrolled, Woodward said.

Students also have the right to attend the “local school,” in the attendance area where they are currently living.

“It is generally the family/student’s decision to attend either,” she said. “The school of origin can potentially recommend the student/s attend the local school if attendance is an issue. The best interest of the student always takes priority.”

Resources and challenges

Once enrolled the students have access to several resources such as:

  • Transportation services to school of origin, if they are residing outside that school’s geographic area
  • Free meals
  • Clothing and school supplies
  • Homelessness resources for the families

All that is made possible by the grants and collaborations with a strong network of partners in the community, Woodward said.

The biggest challenges that VBCPS faces, like so many school systems across the nation, is the perpetual challenges of finding affordable housing and funding for family-friendly shelter beds and housing programs, she said.

Transportation services can also be difficult to schedule when families are in crisis or highly transient, she noted.

“Project HOPE is always looking to expand its partnerships to meet the growing needs of VBCPS students.”

To learn more about Project HOPE at VBCPS, click here.

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