HC4A’s School Supplies Fuel McKinney-Vento’s Impact in Central Texas

Homelessness creates immense barriers for the impacted children and families. According to the yearly Point-In-Time (PIT) count, 27,377 homeless people were found throughout Texas on a single night in January 2023.

To break down this number further:

About 15% of these homeless people were children under the age of 18. In this 15%:

  • 3,403 were infants and toddlers who weren’t yet five years old (5.55%).
  • 3,152 were kids between the ages of five and ten (5.14%).
  • 1,513 were aged 11 to 14 (2.47%).
  • 941 were between the ages of 15 and 17 (1.53%). 
data source - texas homeless network

These children experience housing insecurity and face challenges like hunger, poverty, frequent mobility, and emotional trauma that make it difficult to enroll and focus on academic success. However, education remains the best pathway toward building stable, opportunity-filled lives.

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McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act 

For over 30 years, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act has protected the rights of students experiencing homelessness to receive a free, appropriate public education. 

This federal law requires school districts to immediately enroll homeless children and youth, even without typical requirements like proof of residency or academic records. McKinney-Vento also mandates that schools provide these students with services and support to help overcome barriers to their education.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act defines homeless children and youth as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” This includes students:

  • Sharing housing due to loss of housing or economic hardship
  • Living in motels, shelters, cars, parks, abandoned buildings, etc.
  • Migratory children meeting the above living situations
statewide homeless data by living situation

Source

The Act requires school districts to identify students meeting this definition through practices like:

  • Housing questionnaires/residency forms in enrollment paperwork.
  • Coordinating with shelters, motels, and community service providers.
  • Training staff on key homelessness indicators to be aware of.
  • Designating a homeless liaison in the district to lead identification.

Once identified, McKinney-Vento requires districts to enroll homeless students immediately, even lacking typical documentation. Schools must also provide access to services and support that allow full participation, such as free school supplies.

Texas Education for Homeless Children and Youth (TEHCY) Program 

In Texas, the Texas Education for Homeless Children and Youth (TEHCY) Program oversees the implementation of the McKinney-Vento Act across the state. TEHCY provides training, technical assistance, and monitoring to ensure school districts comply with homeless student policies. The program coordinates closely with district homeless liaisons.

Challenges Slowing Down McKinney-Vento 

Despite implementing the Mckinney-Vento Act throughout the United States, including Texas, these students face various issues. One of the biggest hurdles homeless students face is a lack of basic school supplies. 

Having pencils, paper, backpacks, and other essentials allows students to participate in classroom activities from day one. Unfortunately, many families impacted by homelessness cannot afford these supplies. This can delay enrollment or prevent equal access, violating the core principles of McKinney-Vento.

That’s where HC4A comes in. 

HC4A – Fueling the Impact of TEHCY

HC4A is a nonprofit, non-religious, and non-political organization founded in 2010 with the mission to bridge income disparity through education in the very communities we live in. 

Barbara James, a board member of HC4A, explained, “Back in 1987 when the McKinney-Vento Act was passed, schools were given money to do some research to find out the needs of children experiencing homelessness. One of the greatest needs that always surfaced was school supplies.”

Unfortunately, there’s not enough funding for school supplies at the schools, which ultimately affects homeless students. Without these supplies, these students don’t have the basic learning tools to study and build their knowledge base to succeed academically. 

So, while TEHCY identifies homeless students in need of assistance through residency questionnaires and intake processes outlined in the McKinney-Vento Act, HC4A provides these students with essential school supplies. 

For over a decade, HC4A has collected and distributed free school supplies to homeless and low-income students in Central Texas. Their Schooling Needs Program has supported over 14,000 children with school supplies.

hc4a school supplies

How HC4A Raises Funds for School Supplies

Every year, HC4A conducts a fundraising event called Bollywood Meets Borscht Belt (BMBB) in collaboration with the Jewish American communities. The funds raised through this event support the Schooling Needs Program of the organization. 

HC4A then packs and distributes customized backpacks containing grade-appropriate supplies based on each district’s supply lists. 

“HC4A has been there for Central Texas schools,” said Barbara. “Thousands of Texas school children are able to start school with the supplies they need. They’re able to stay focused because they’re not worried about where their supplies are coming from.”

With the help of these supplies, the students living in homeless conditions can feel that they are the same as the other children and can attend school regularly with confidence.

Mayra Hernandez, Director of The Whole Child, Community Partnerships and Engagement, Manor Independent School District, said, “A lot of our families coming in from other countries have limited access to school supplies and even basic needs like food and clothing.” She went on to share, “Organizations like HC4A coming and supporting us means that it’s all a cycle. It’s a connection we have as humans and that’s what we were meant to do – to connect and support each other.”

Creating Equal Access & Reducing Stigma

As Barbara Duffield, Executive Director of SchoolHouse Connection, stated, “Having school supplies creates a sense of normalcy and helps mitigate the trauma that students experiencing homelessness are facing.” 

Under McKinney-Vento, these students must have resources and support like their stably housed peers. A lack of basic supplies can highlight visible disparities that lead to harassment and social stigmatization.

“When we first went homeless, we were living in a Chevy Cavalier with our two dogs and a cat,” recalled one of the former homeless students in Austin ISD. “All our stuff was piled in the back and we had to rearrange everything just to sleep each night.” 

Diane Nilan, the founder and director of Hear Us Inc. and member of the Advisory Board of HC4A, urges, “Imagine being by yourself and not having what you need to succeed in school like your classmates.”

With HC4A’s backpacks, the students struggling with homelessness and poverty can have important school supplies and better focus on academics. 

“The backpack keeps it all together and makes them feel like they belong in school with their classmates,” said Diane.

Looking to the Future

While HC4A has made a tremendous impact, the need for equitable education access remains immense. 

According to McKinney-Vento Act data, the number of students experiencing homelessness across the US surpassed 1.1 million during the 2020-21 school year. In Texas, 93,096 students were identified as homeless that same year.

Source

To meet this growing need, HC4A aims to expand its school supply distribution program further throughout Central Texas in the coming years. This will require sustained community support through volunteers, individual/corporate donors, and partnerships with new school districts.

HC4A is always looking for more helping hands to pack backpacks and passionate advocates for its mission of educational equity. Every child deserves the tools to reach their full potential in the classroom, regardless of their housing situation.

Those interested in getting involved can sign up for HC4A’s next big backpacking event on August 6, 2024, in Austin. Volunteers will assemble over 1500 backpacks to distribute before the 2024-25 school year. 

To register or learn about other ways to contribute, visit the HC4A website.

With your support, HC4A will continue to supply McKinney-Vento program students with the essential school supplies they need to begin their new school year with confidence and complete focus.

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