Chicago Public Schools official says she wants to make sure students who move out of public housing that is undergoing redevelopment get some extra help if they need it.
Students whose families are forced to move out can receive some of the benefits the system offers homeless students, says Chief Officer for Schools and Regions Blondean Davis.
Under the Homeless Education Program, the board uses a city-wide tracking system to make sure that homeless students get tutoring, counseling, transportation and other support they may need. Each school has a designated liaison who is responsible for looking after homeless students’ needs.
Davis proposes to include former CHA residents in the tracking system and to require the liaisons to help them make the transition to new schools. Some schools provide new children with a buddy, usually a 7th or 8th grader who “adopts” the child and shows him or her around, Davis says. The homeless liaison can provide a tutor or refer a child for medical help, if necessary, Davis adds. “It doesn’t cost anything else in terms of the system, because we have staff and structure already in place.”
However, former CHA students will not receive the same transportation benefits the board offers to homeless children. When homeless children move to a new residence or shelter, the board pays for them to travel back to their original school to avoid disrupting their studies.
But transportation benefits are what many CHA students could use. In a joint investigation last month, Catalyst and The Chicago Reporter found that as the school year began, 720 students who had moved out of CHA were traveling back to schools in their old neighborhoods. Since the beginning of the year, board officials estimate that hundreds more have moved out and begun commuting to CHA-area schools.
Transportation will also be an issue for many students who do transfer to new schools, since many families who leave CHA move two or more times. Although the board will not necessarily pay for students’ ongoing transportation expenses, Davis says that, under the new tracking system, a second or third move would trigger at least a visit from a CPS social worker.
At least one school, however, has a number of students who are either homeless or former CHA residents. Bradwell Elementary in South Shore received 95 transfers from CHA developments, more than any other school, the Catalyst/Reporter study found.
According to homeless liaison Linda Sneed-Bell, Bradwell has also identified about 100 homeless children among its students. Eleven more were identified in the first week of May alone, she adds.
“I’m filling out homeless forms almost daily, and I’m kind of overwhelmed with that,” says Sneed-Bell, who is also Bradwell’s parent advocate.
If the board were to add the responsibility for tracking former CHA students to her plate, she says she would need to hire an assistant. “They’d need a person to take that on. I would be whining to my principal all day long.”
Between 1995 and 2000, a total of 5,673 students transferred out of the schools serving five rapidly-redeveloping CHA projects, the Catalyst/Reporter study found. About 6,400 students were still living in those developments and attending those schools last fall. By comparison, the board has identified about 4,500 homeless students to date.