More than 1,500 MSCS students experienced homelessness in first quarter of school year

Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 6:45 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Memphis-Shelby County School (MSCS) leaders are sounding the alarm after the number of homeless students nearly doubled by the end of the first quarter of the 2022 school year compared to the year before.

MSCS says 1,504 students were identified as being homeless by the end of the school year’s first nine weeks on Oct. 7.

Leaders say the ongoing housing crises, skyrocketing rent, mortgages, bills, and more are putting families out on the street.

Comparatively, the district identified 538 students experiencing homelessness at the end of the first quarter of the 2021 school year.

In 2020, the district says there were 395 displaced students that same quarter. In 2019, there were 643.

District specialists use grants from the Mickenny-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and the Youth Homeless System Demonstration Program to help figure out if a student is experiencing homelessness

Chief of Academic Operations Shawn Paige says most of that identification is done face to face.

Paige says kids going online during the pandemic is also part of why Shelby County is seeing an uptick.

This caused the district to use funds from the American Rescue Plan to bring on nine specialists to help identify unhoused students and families.

Last year, there were only four specialists.

“We did that because, as we know, there’s a national affordable housing crisis in America right now,” Paige said. “It’s definitely impacting Memphis and our families and their access to education.”

MSCS says the Special Populations staff includes one senior manager of Special Populations, one manager for Migrant Education, one senior advisor for Social-Emotional Supports, one Homeless Liaison, three Federal Programs advisors, one Migrant Education advisor, ten Federal Programs Wrap-Around specialists, and one clerical assistant.

Senior Manager of Special Population and Discipline Dr. Karen Ball Johnson says the district needs more Federal Programs Wrap-Around specialists.

“At this time, our specialists have as many as 18 to 20 schools per specialist... that’s a lot,” Ball-Johnson said. “That’s a lot. They’re doing a lot of work with what we currently have. We’re doing the best we can.”

Some homeless students have to change schools or miss school multiple times a year when their families are forced to move to keep a roof over their heads.

Dr. Ball-Johnson says the district is working on a solution.

“When we are informed, we can provide them with transportation,” Ball-Johnson said. “We can provide them with bus passes. We’re in the process of purchasing a van just for this specific purpose so when we know about them... we can go ahead and take them to school.”

The district does offer external resources for families, like MIFA, to connect them with stable housing, along with organizations that offer school supplies, uniform vouchers, bus passes, and more.

Click here to view a full list of MSCS’s partners and the services they offer for displaced families.

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