Oxford School District contains dozens of homeless students
By Davis McCool
At least 93 children will go to sleep without a home of their own this year in the Oxford School District.
Homelessness among students in the district continues to be a pressing issue, and awareness remains low as needs remain high, even with many safeguards in place.
The federal definition of homelessness, or “those who lack a fixed, adequate and regular nighttime housing” applies to 93 current district students, according to Dr. SuzAnne Liddell, the Director of Federal Programs and Student Assessment for the district.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, which Liddell supervises for the district, is the federal law that “ensures immediate enrollment and educational stability for homeless children and youth.”
Many students find themselves splitting time between households, or even sharing residence with a friend or distant family member. This is a common occurrence among homeless students in the district, according to Oxford High School Principal Bradley Roberson.
“We do have kids that bounce around from one household to the next, and we have had a few instances over my 17 years where a kid has come to me and said, ‘Mr. Roberson, I don’t know where I’m going to sleep tonight’,” Roberson said.
On her own
One such student who finds herself in a similar affair, a female at OHS, has elected to speak out anonymously regarding her situation.
“My mom gave her rights away,” the student said. “She just gave me away, because she was a drug addict and she wouldn’t take care of me, and my dad is also an alcoholic and a drug addict so he couldn’t take care of me. My guardian was not doing her part. So I’ve been on my own basically, with a little help.”
At just the age of five, after the student’s grandmother passed away, she was adopted by her cousin, but was again forced out of the household due to bad living conditions. She was shuffled around for a couple of years, even living with her dad at times, but has now settled in with her sister, even though her cousin remains her legal guardian.
She rarely has nights where she does not know her final destination, but is still considered homeless by definition, and it has taken a toll on her, both mentally and financially.
“When I was in 6th grade, I was diagnosed with depression, so I had to go to these classes and they said I was depressed about my mother,” she said. “I didn’t see it, but they did.”
“My dad was ordered to pay child support,” she said. “I didn’t see any money. I was told that I was getting money, but I didn’t see any. My caseworker that I had, she told me that I was supposed to be getting money from the government. I couldn’t do anything about it at the time.”
The student’s circumstances are not unusual among homeless children in the district, according to Liddell.
“Sharing housing or being doubled-up is most often the case with our homeless students,” Liddell said. “However, families who are doubled-up are not always in the same shared location for an extended period of time.”
The McKinney-Vento Act guarantees the right to education for homeless students, but also has measures in place to ensure that right.
“The Oxford School District applies for the Title X McKinney Vento grant each year,” Liddell said. The allocation is generally $25,000-$30,000 and is used to supplement the academic needs of students who are identified under the federal definition of homeless. Some of the services provided include after-school and in-school tutoring.”
Many community organizations are also around to help these students have access to food, clothes, and more, such as Lovepacks and More than a Meal, among many others, according to Liddell.
Even with several measures in place to protect these students, Roberson is wary of a lack of awareness regarding the issue of homelessness in an area such as Oxford.
“I certainly think that is an issue, just simply because of the socio-economic statuses of a lot of our students and our residents within our Oxford community,” Roberson said. “I do think that it goes unnoticed a good bit of the time, and we can’t become desensitized to that as a community.”
Both Roberson and Liddell (who also serves as the district liaison to homeless students) want to make it clear that if they can be of assistance in any way, their doors are always open.
“I think it starts off with awareness not to have on blinders and get caught in our little bubbles where everything is fine for us,” Roberson said. “There’s not a single person out there who doesn’t want to be loved.”
Davis McCool is editor-in-chief of The Charger, the online publication of Oxford High School.
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