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BOARDWATCH: Dramatic testimony from homeless families brings reality of policies to the October 22 Board meeting

Dasla Skinner of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless asked the Board to involve actual homeless families in the Board's policy discussions before the Board adopts a policy on education access for the homeless. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Although the members of the Chicago Board of Education regularly hear from students and parents from the city's ever growing number of charter schools and campuses in an endless procession proclaiming how a charter school brought a form of salvation to an individual or family, the groups of people systematically excluded from the city's charter schools are rarely or never heard from. One of the largest of these groups is the city's population of homeless children.

Taiishi Neuman spoke about the problems her family faced while trying to get an education while the family was homeless. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.At the October 22, 2014 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, an organizer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and three people spoke about the challenges of homelessness as they relate to public education.

The Coalition told Substance that CPS officials will be changing their policy on educating homeless children and will present the new policy to the November 19 meeting of the Board of Education. That meeting will be held at Westinghouse High School beginning at 4:30 p.m.

TESTIMONY OF Mr.Neuman

Good morning. My name is Mr.Neuman,

In my youth, I became homeless because my mother didnt have money to pay the rent. My family and I lived in an abandoned building. We didnt have lights, gas or water. I never had money to wash my clothes. Also I didnt have bus fare to get to school all the time. As a kid I would go to McDonalds before school to wash up in the bathroom. My brothers and I would share clothes for school so the other kids wouldnt notice we were wearing the same clothes and make fun of us.

Sam Jones described what it was like being a child at Gale Elementary School while his family was homeless. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.I understand what it is like to be homeless, which makes me an expert on this subject for improving this policy. A good homeless policy should have a time frame for school staff to distribute uniforms, supplies, and bus cards within a weeks time. These items are essential to ensure children are prepared for school and, not take 2-3 months, like at Gale elementary, where my child attends. Most important, the policy should keep up with the current laws and be complete and detailed, including all the specifics about what support and services homeless families are entitled to. I know that a new policy has been proposed and I have reviewed it. While it is good to have details of a policy on a website, every detail of the STLS program should also be on an official POLICY document. This will protect the rights of homeless parents, like myself. For If it is only on a website, its contents can be changed without board approval.

TESTIMONY OF MS NEUMAN

Ms.Neuman

Hello, my name is Taishi Neuman and I want to talk about the STLS policy and my experience with homelessness. I became homeless because my pain from my Multiple Sclerosis left me unable to perform my job duties, so I became unemployed, and couldnt work to pay for rent and other bills. Being homeless made it hard for me to afford bus fare to take my daughter to school. In the winter time I had an option to buy boots or to buy a warm coat for my daughter. What would you have chosen? (pause) I chose a coat to keep her warm on our 30 min walks to school. I would put grocery bags in our gym shoes to keep our feet from getting wet in the snow. When we got to the school, our feet still got wet and my daughter Maegan's feet were almost frostbitten. The STLS policy is very important because it helps parents like me who are without a home and with limited or often no funds to keep our children in school so they can receive an education. I know the STLS program provides boots and coats for students but it should state this and every other detail of services on the official policy. Also, I have looked over a proposed STLS policy, which I do not like. It is vague and not specific enough. A good policy should be detailed and comprehensive, and its details should not only be on a website, but also on an official policy to protect the rights of homeless students, and ensure the school staff follow what is on the policy. Marilyn

TESTIMONY OF MARILYN ESCOE:

Good morning, my name is Marilyn Escoe. I wanted to talk about the STLS policy and my experience with homelessness. I became homeless being a single parent of 4 and having to care for my sick mother, who is now resting in heaven. This didnt leave me time to work enough hours to pay for rent and other bills. Some of the daily struggles I faced when I was homeless were always being worried about getting back on my feet, where would my family live and just getting by from day to day. Homelessness affects our childrens education because they are late for school, their grades fall and their self-esteem lowers. **The hardship transportation through the STLS program helped my kids get to school on time and safely, as I worked a full time job to get stable. But I had to fight for this bus service, with the help of lawyers from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. The liaison and principal delayed getting the bus for my kids even though I gave verification of hardship and even though the policy says these services should have been initiated immediately. A good homeless policy should say what a parent needs to prove hardship, make sure that more than one school staff be trained in STLS so that they are aware of the services and how to help homeless families. Also there should be someone to check and make sure each liaison and school is doing what they are supposed to be doing. I know there has been a proposed policy which I find empty and not detailed. While a website is good, the actual policy should describe all specifics and details about what students and caregivers can get. If it is not in the policy, there is no legal document to hold liaisons and principals accountable if they violate the policy.



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