Working With the Homeless: How Does a Coordinator for Students in Temporary Housing Do His Job?

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S2: You’re listening to working the show about what people do all day. I’m your host, Jordan Weisman, and we are back to our ongoing series about people who work in services for the homeless. In my last episode, I talked a lot about children who are experiencing homelessness and their lives in a family shelter. And I kind of wanted to expand on that theme this week and go a little further with it. So I spoke with Kevin, my body. He works at P.S. 1 0 5, the base school in the Rockaways in Queens. And his job is really to be the point person for kids and their families who don’t have a permanent home. Whether they’re in a shelter, they’re doubled up. You’ll learn a little bit about what that means. Part of the reason I thought this episode was really important is because there’s this sort of policy issue that’s underpinning it. You know, I’m a policy writer most of the time here at Slate. This is dear to me. And I don’t think you can fully understand the challenges that public schools face right now. Educating kids, especially in poorer neighborhoods and poorer communities. Unless you realize the extent to which these children do not have stable living situations, do not have stable homes. You know, I spoke to Kevin a little bit about just the surprisingly high fraction of of his students at this school who do not have a permanent place to call home.

S3: And once you start factoring that into the way you think about American public education, it just really changes your perspective on it. And what we are asking teachers and principals to accomplish and do. So, you know, I hope this interview gives you a little bit of insight into that part of our public school system.

S4: What’s your name and what do you do?

S5: My name is Kevin Dadge, my buddy and I am a student in temporary housing community coordinator at PSM is one of five the Bay School.

S6: And where is the base school exactly? The Bay School is in Far Rockaway, Queens. Queens? Yes, sort of the remote. Most people think the vernacular. Yeah, the peninsula. Exactly. Most will think of it as sort of the beach in New York. Q Tell me a little about the community in Far Rockaway.

S7: So the community there’s not a lot around in the area. I notice there’s no movie theater around the area.

S8: There’s not a lot of things for people to do outside of school or the local community center, at least on this side. And then when you get into the nineties and the hundreds, there’s, you know, there’s some stores here and there, but not like a place where you can socialize or go out with your friends. But it’s it’s a very nice area. And they’re actually they have multiple projects happening on the peninsula to build it up. The beach is a few blocks away. So that’s amazing.

S4: You know, it’s a school, low income, high income, you know, middle class. How would you describe the student body?

S8: I would say low, low income, socio economic.

S4: And majority black, white, Hispanic.

S9: I would say black and Hispanic.

S4: And you’re the point person for kids in temporary housing. So am I right to say that means essentially you’re the guy who looks after children who are experiencing homelessness?

S5: Yes. So children that are in shelters, in family shelters, DV shelters, which are domestic violence shelters, doubled up, which means that it’s not a traditional household.

S10: So it could be mom, dad, cousins, aunts, uncle, all living in the same household.

S8: So I’m the person that they can come to for resources for basically like a middleman. I’m a liaison between the school and them, guidance counselors, the families, shelter staff.

S4: How many students are experiencing homelessness in your school at any given time? How how many how many charges do you have?

S8: I can’t give you the exact number, but I could say 50 to 100.

S4: 50 to 100. Yeah. Out of a student body of how many?

S11: Eight hundred over eight hundred.

S4: Wow. Up to one out of eight students is experiencing some sort of homelessness or housing instability at any given time.

S7: And that’s it changes. It could change every day.

S4: Kids find housing or they lose housing or they simply get new families.

S8: Yeah. And as others move away to permanent housing or they move to another shelter.

S6: Yeah. How old are the kids at your school?

S11: We have three K to eighth grade students, three K three year olds to 14 year olds.

S4: Oh, so you’ve got elementary through middle school? Essentially, yes. It’s a pretty wide age range. Yes. Are the kids in temporary housing kind of concentrated in any any one grade level or is it all now?

S9: It’s all over that range. How long have you been doing this job for? I’ve been doing this job for three years, two years as a family assistant. I was working with the deal. We as a family assistant inside of an actual shelter, a family shelter. So I got to see that side of it.

S6: And what was a family assistance? What were you doing? Arms out.

S8: So as a family assistant, I did intake for the families who came in. I helped them with the transportation. I helped them with making sure that they were able to register at the school, at the local zoned school, because, you know, if if you’re identified as a student, temporary housing, you have the right to just go in and register. You don’t need documentation and any documentation you could get afterwards. Yeah, but they have to be immediately enrolled. So I got to make sure that the schools know that they’re coming from that situation.

S6: How did you end up moving to working in the schools?

S8: So the D-WI office and community schools, they they created this new role. The SDH community coordinator, because of what’s going on with homelessness and families and how is growing every year. Yeah. So they created this position throughout the city. Every Burle and I saw an opportunity to move to this position, work inside of the school. And it’s more like with the students. I got to see more of the students because before I was in the shelter, I got to see I got to see what the parents went through. And I worked with the case managers and, you know, found out what resources they needed to try to get out of the shelter system. But now I’m on this side where I get to see how the children are impacted.

S4: And you get to kind of play a role in helping them get the resources they need in schools.

S8: Yeah. And there’s still I still engage with the families, too. So that’s a good part about working at the school. I get to see both the families and the children.

S4: How do you figure out if a kid is homeless?

S12: Well, that’s a good question. I can tell you that we have housing questionnaires and that’s where we give out to families every year.

S7: And they check off whether they’re. Housing. They’re in a shelter. That doubled up and then they give those back. And then we’d put it in the system that’s required under federal law.

S6: Right. Yeah, I believe it’s called the McKinney-Vento law. Right. Yes. The McKinney-Vento. Yeah. So you guys give that questionnaire out. And that’s the main way you figure out who who needs your assistance and who doesn’t.

S13: The deal we and DHS, Department of Homeless Services, they had a dating sharing agreement.

S5: Mm hmm. So that the school records are accurate. So we share information. So that’s another way that we know who’s where.

S4: So if someone if a kid shows up in the cities, in the department homeless services database, they tell you and you can cross-check your kids with their database. Yes. OK. So there are multiple levels of data here aside.

S12: Issues. Yeah. It would show up on our side that they’re in a shelter.

S4: Even if a kid doesn’t fill out the survey correctly or doesn’t fill it out at all. Then you guys will approach them. Yes.

S14: How does that conversation go?

S12: Well, most of the time when they come to register to our school and they really move into a shelter close by, they’ll come in with a letter from the shelter. And then whoever is doing the intake will come to me and let me know. And then I have a conversation with them about the services that I could provide for them. I let them know we have a food pantry. I give the children uniforms if they need it. And I make sure that they feel comfortable with the school.

S4: What about the kids who are doubled up, though? I mean, they’re not gonna show up in the city’s database. And I assume that they don’t all properly fill out the questionnaire, do they?

S14: Well, not that we get from the questionnaires. Yeah. Yeah, that’s that’s how we get that. So those kids are a little harder to track down.

S8: Yeah. You know, also there are like cultural differences. So maybe it’s normal for some families to not be in traditional households.

S6: How we define it where it’s just the nuclear family. Yeah. So that that definition is a little fuzzier for some families.

S8: Yeah. And sometimes they just don’t want to fill it out. And that’s that’s up to them. It’s how they want to answer that. But we do make it known that we have services for families in need at the school.

S14: Do you ever go to teachers and just ask how kids are doing? Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I’ve had teachers come to me and tell me, hey, I think this student move to shelter.

S11: This person told me they move to a shelter and then I’ll investigate. Teachers are amazing. They’re a great resource for me to find out what’s going on with a child’s life. And it has happened here. There are students who go to the school. They’re not listed as temporary, you know, house children, but they end up becoming part of the shelter system. So that does happen. It’s not just new students that we never met. It’s it’s kids that we know that teachers have known for years that end up in the system.

S4: It sounds like everyone’s home has to be involved. It’s a real it takes a village thing.

S12: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

S4: To keep tabs on all these kids and to to make sure, you know, what their home lives are. How would you describe your different responsibilities if you had to divide your job up into different buckets? What would they be?

S8: I would say that every day changes. So one day I could be focusing on dealing with bussing for the children or one that could be focusing on children who are on my list, who are in temporary housing. I could be focusing on their emotional, emotional state or reframe them to somebody in the school for counseling.

S5: But mostly every day I do deal with attendance, attendance. I track their attendance. I make sure to call if they’re not coming in, find out the reasons why they’re not coming and see if I can help with resources that can help.

S4: Is that an everyday ritual? Like it’s you sit down and see who’s in school?

S5: Yeah, that’s an everyday ritual. And I know who is in school. I know. I know the children who are here 100 percent. I know the children who and I know the reasons why they’re not coming in. And that’s when I reach out and I try to help.

S4: So a big part of your job is just making sure you know where everyone is, because if if I guess if you’re not careful, they could disappear.

S8: Well, I would say they would miss their education, which they would miss learning. And that’s a very it’s tough to be in a situation that they’re in and also have consistency at school. So I think one very important thing is to have them have the children have consistency. School is is one thing that I think could stay consistent.

S4: Tell me about that ritual. What is the daily attendance check?

S5: When the teachers do the attendance, they send it to the attendance teacher. And it goes into our system. And I could look up who came to school and who didn’t come to school. And I basically have my own list, which I made in Excel. Right. Check off all my students. I have percentages. I have the days they’ve missed in the month. And I write notes.

S4: And if a kid is missing one day, do you call the winds start contacting parents or shelters?

S7: Sometimes they contact me.

S15: The families contact me and let me know that they can’t be back in time to pick up their child because they have to go to, let’s say, the Bronx to take care of some business, because that’s where they originally from. And sometimes if they missed two days in a row, I’ll give them a call to find out what’s going on.

S4: You check in at that point just to make sure that some bad hasn’t happened yet. Why are the kids typically missing school? Are there sort of reasons that you see regularly?

S7: Well, I think most of the time, because the parents are uprooted from their community and they come to a new community, they need to find what resources are around them and they need to get to know the place. And they end up traveling outside of the community to get what they need, like to go to the benefits office and another burrow because they don’t know the area. And I think that’s a challenge.

S4: So we’re saying is, you know, someone lives in the Bronx. They end up in a shelter in the Rockaways. And they they want to go home to the Bronx to see friends, see family, go to the office that they’re you see, because that’s that’s where they’re supported.

S5: So when they come to a new place, that’s what ends up happening. Then I’ve gone back there to get what they need.

S4: Is that kind of a big part of what’s causing all the instability is that families and kids lose their home in one neighborhood and they kind of end up somewhere else in a shelter in sort of another random part of the city.

S5: Well, I can tell you from my school, I have a few parents that go through that, but I understand the reasoning for how path that does, what they do, how they move around. It’s all based on availability throughout the city. So, you know, it’s very hard to get everybody in one area, especially if, let’s say, Bronx has the highest rate of homelessness population. They can’t fill everybody there. So they have to move them.

S4: Across the city, see if you have to balance the needs of the system with the needs of the family. Yeah. So you do the attendance check every day. Are there any other kind of regular parts of the job that are always on the to do list?

S7: Yeah, I check in on my students and make sure they’re doing all right. They make sure they have what they need. I had one family. I notice their children didn’t have like thick jackets and winter is here. So a couple of teachers pitched in and got them jackets. So you got a notice. That’s why I go and see the students. I make sure that they have what they need.

S4: And you mentioned bussing that, you know, getting transportation is sort of a regular issue. What exactly do you have to do to make sure the kids get to school?

S15: Well, nobody has done a very good job with setting up bussing for children who are in shelters. They get busing automatically most times. And it’s always difficult the beginning of the year because that’s when everything starts up again and there’s a lot of chaos. But for the most part, they’re very good with getting students temporary housing, busing. And if there is an issue, I’m I’m the person they come to and I take care of it.

S4: If the kids having a problem with their transportation, they come to you.

S12: Yeah. Or if they need transportation or if, let’s say they move into permanent housing, they still have the right to have busing from wherever they move to until the end of the school year to our school.

S4: So you said also a big part of your job is just keeping track of kids emotional lives in it if they’re okay. How do you do that?

S5: I communicate with the guidance counselors.

S16: We just got a bridging the gap social worker at the school who works with me with those students in temporary housing. And she sees the students who we’ve identified through speaking with teachers, guidance counselors, anybody who knows the student, whether or not they maybe need somebody to talk to you.

S4: Do you have an open door policy where kids can come to you or are you sorry? Yeah, absolutely. How do you kind of keep these kids in your orbit? How do you know what’s happening with them?

S5: I make sure that I’m present, that I’m there and they see me. They know who I am. And I high fived them and I ask them how they’re doing.

S8: You know, I just I communicate and make some jokes. And they do. They feel comfortable speaking to me. Speaking to the other staff here, I make myself present for them. The point is to be around.

S5: Yeah. Not just not just sit in my office. I actually walk around, see them at lunchtime, greet them when they come in through the door in the morning. Be there at the end of the day, talking to kids.

S4: Actually come into your office.

S14: Oh, all the time. Yeah. Is it weather?

S5: Hot weather, whether it’s for good reasons or batteries as they’re always coming in and out of the room. But yeah, they come in there, they come and say hi. And lots of good reason just to say hi or show us something. Tell us they made us something. I have some drawings up on my board in there. That’s pretty cool.

S4: And a bad reason is, you know what?

S14: What’s a. They got they got in trouble. They. Oh, that’s interesting.

S4: So they’re getting a garden variety trouble, too. If you’ll, I think kind of come to you for backup.

S5: Yeah. I’m always there for them. I just talked to them. I don’t get mad at them. Know, they come to me, I speak to them like this kind as I can and try to get an understanding of why they did what they did or you know, but that’s but that’s every kid that’s advocate. I’m not just speaking to the students debris, housing. I don’t turn away kids who come into my office, you know. So I try to be there for for all the students here.

S4: My understanding is that if a kid is identified as homeless, they get certain legal rights. Ketone what those are.

S16: Yes. So students are able to enroll immediately into school. They are able to get bussing to school. It’s located six or they get metrocards pants and get metrocards to take their children to school. If they move to if they move department, house and they’re able to get busing until the end of the year from the new address to the school, or they’re able to stay at their previous school before moving to another area. Like if they moved from the Bronx to Far Rockaway, they’re still able to get bussing from Far Rockaway to the Bronx.

S4: That explains partly why busing is a big deal for your job, because you’ve probably got kids coming from pretty far away in some cases, right? Yeah. So transportation becomes complicated.

S16: Yeah. And they don’t want to move their children from the school. And I get that consistency is key. They don’t want the children to lose their friends. So it really impacts them emotionally if they’re moved to a new school. So I understand why parents would leave their children in their home school after moving to another borough.

S4: How much free days is typically spent dealing with like transportation, logistics?

S8: At this point, everything is running smoothly with offers of people transportation. So right now, not so much. Sometimes something will come up and I’ll make a phone call and they’re fairly quick with any any issues. So things get resolved fairly quickly. But before there was a time where it was more well, I would say in the beginning of the year it was a little hectic. It was just because when schools first start, a lot of kids, there’s a lot of new kids. Then there’s kids that come in for. Few weeks and then go somewhere else. And it’s not just the instant re-housing. So it’s up and down the registration.

S16: And you expect them to show up, but they don’t show up and they’re actually going to another school. So it’s a little rough.

S4: Do kids ever just kind of stop showing up? Yes.

S12: But I had a family of four students who were coming here. They actually had five children, but one went to another school and they stopped showing up.

S11: I found out they moved to another burrow and I had to make sure that they registered at the zone school. They were at. Because there were there was no way that they were gonna get their children here.

S4: So you actually had to help them move schools?

S12: Yeah, I had to let them know where to go, what to do with schools like that. All the children to go through around there. That’s when you see like one, two, three, four or five, six, seven days missing. Like, you just watch it every day and you look at something’s going on and you can’t reach them, that you find that they move.

S4: At that point, you go investigate. Yeah. What’s something you’re particularly proud of that you’ve done at this job?

S12: I would say starting the food pantry, stopping shop helped us with food pantry.

S4: What made you realize or decide that the school needed a food pantry?

S17: Well, I sent out a survey, actually, to parents. I asked if a food pantry would be helpful for the family. Some people said yes. Some people said yes. But we’re okay. But it’ll be good for the school community. So I got good feedback and I thought, OK, this is good. So I reach out to my principal, Mitch SHAPIRO, who was 100 percent in and she got me the space I needed. Yeah. After that it was just getting the stuff working in the shelter, seeing the resources they have. Some places have a lack of kitchen space. So I tried to get foods that are catered more for what they can use to make it.

S4: What kind of foods are we talking about?

S17: Microwaveable easy food to make dry foods. And I had a family come who’s who’s not a family in temporary housing. And they told us that their benefits were cut off. And I went out shopping for them. I got them rice, beans and vegetables. So that’s that’s something else that if somebody comes to us, you know, I could definitely make the time and go out and get stuff for a family.

S4: You personally went shopping for them?

S14: Yeah, I do. I do all the show me myself and the president, Mahalia. Right.

S4: Do you find families that are ever hesitant to ask for help?

S13: Yes.

S8: I’ve had families not want to be involved in the food pantry, but, you know, I respect that. You have to respect their privacy. You know, I let them know the services are available.

S4: Do you find that kids who are in shelter have a particularly hard time keeping up their schoolwork?

S15: In some cases, yes. In some cases, no. Because what we’re trying to work on is, is getting kids to come in.

S12: We want to make sure that their attendance is excellent, because as long as they come in, they’re academics are going to be up there. So when they start missing school, like if a family takes their job for a day or two because they have to travel somewhere, they’re missing their education. You know, education is the key to success. Everything.

S4: That’s really the main fight is just making sure these kids stay in school.

S12: Absolutely. And that’s why I want to get them the resources that they need so that they don’t have to go and, you know, miss the whole day and not be back in time to pick up their child. We want the parents to be more involved in this with the school, with the staff, with the child’s education.

S4: Is it hard to get parents who are in shelter to be involved in the school itself?

S14: I think it’s hard to get a lot of parents involved in the school itself.

S5: I build a good relationship with the families and if we have a parent workshop, they come out.

S11: What do you think would make your job easier, more resources, more money to go in to their academics, more fun activities, more. Just funding, really, with funding, you can basically cater to what your school needs. Yeah. Like for the children.

S4: What would be your dream program to create for for these kids?

S13: My dream program would be to have an S-H S.A.T. prep class after school like eight months before the test in October.

S4: That sounds like something on all the kids could use.

S12: Absolutely. I just I feel like all seventh graders should be prepared to take the test. I don’t think they’re prepared much. The last person they got into Fleshlight High School from this school, I think was over 10 years. And I really want to change that.

S5: It has a lot to do with where we’re going to get the funding, who’s going to teach it. I’m willing to, you know, spend my own time to stay here. And, you know, as long as I have the materials I have, you know, I have the time to do it. So that’s that’s what I’m working on. I’m trying to.

S4: And I guess you just say for listeners who aren’t familiar with New York City public schools. The essay H.H.. They are. They S-H S.A.T.’s. It’s a specialized high school admissions exam for a kind of New York’s I guess you’d call them the elite magnet schools. I guess if you could have one thing for the kids who are in unstable housing, I’m I’m curious, what would be your dream program for them?

S13: I think it would be having resources for the parents as well as the children. Like in one place like.

S11: So I had this idea, right, to have like a non-profit organization or like city workers come in like work in the shelters instead of having the families who have babies or have children in school a few blocks away travel to offices where they have to take like five buses and two trains.

S10: I think that would be like an excellent way to help the families. I was talking to someone about that. I’ve sung it to a an organization about that. I’m working on it. I’m trying to see if it’s possible. That’s just my idea.

S14: I’m not saying, you know, it’s it’s interesting, but patent pending that and pending. I like it. Kevin, thank you for joining me. I really appreciate it. Thank you for having me.

S2: That’s it for this week’s episode of Working, I hope you enjoyed the show. If you did, please leave us our review at Apple podcasts. And as always, you can send me an e-mail. Working at Slate dot com working is produced by Jesmyn Molly Special. Thank you to Justin directs the ad Music. I’m Jordan Weisman. Catch us next week.