The Impact Center program aims to end student homelessness in the Center School District within four years.
Homelessness is a problem for any family, but when it involves school-age children, the impacts are even more significant. Students struggle to learn when they are worried about where they will be sleeping that night or when their next meal may be coming. Class attendance suffers.
At any point in time, about 300 of the 2,600 students in the Center School district are homeless or in very insecure housing.
This is the problem that Impact Center intends to solve.
The program’s most pressing need is to hire a full-time case manager to work directly and intensively with families to help them overcome their individual barriers to housing success.
The case manager is an essential piece of the “Impact” program model pioneered successfully in the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools, developed by the Kansas Community Leadership Enterprise five years ago.
Impact KCK, operated by Avenue of Life, has marshaled dozens of service providers and employed case managers to help some 1,400 homeless students, reducing the number of homeless students by 50% in four years.
The impact of homelessness and housing insecurity on students
Center families that are considered homeless either lack a permanent home, or they have insecure housing. Their housing situation is unstable — perhaps living with family or friends, or in a situation with no assurance of being able to stay there long term.
The impacts on students are the same. They wake up every day not knowing where home may be that night. They are often unsure about when and what they will eat. They don't know if they will have a place to do their homework. They often move frequently from one place to another, sometimes requiring multiple changes in school during the academic year.
Studies show that students who move during the school year can lose up to 3/4 of a year of learning as they adjust to new curriculum, new social groups, and new rules and expectations.
These impacts affect not only the homeless students. A statistic called "mobility rate" measures how many students come in and out of the classroom during the year. The district average for Center is just under 40%. This means that when a classroom teacher greets their students on the first day of school, they can expect that 4 in 10 of those faces will be different by the end of the year. This disruption affects all of the students in the class, not just the ones who move in and out.
For students who are trying to overcome the challenges of poverty, adding in the disruptions of insecure housing and homelessness makes a difficult situation even worse.
Why homelessness is a difficult problem to solve
For families that are homeless, life adversity has overwhelmed their ability to bounce back.
It is usually a combination of factors that include a things like job loss (or poorly paying jobs), unstable family life, substance abuse, mental or physical health issues, family violence, neighborhood violence, and lack of good role models. In many cases, these factors have existed in a family for multiple generations, making poverty a way of life with no easy way out.
As a history of job loss, evictions, unpaid bills, and health issues add up, the barriers to getting out of homelessness get higher and higher. The challenge of dealing with multiple bureaucratic organizations makes the problem all the more difficult. Families get to the point where they simply cannot solve the issues on their own.
They need a friend with the experiences and resources to help them.
How Impact Center works and why the model is successful
The concept that makes the “Impact” model work is simple: The school district identifies families who are ready to do the hard work of changing their life trajectory. In Kansas City, Kan., Avenue of Life assigns them a Case Manager (the friend) who works intensively with the family to connect them to the various resources (partner agencies) that can help them with their unique circumstances.
The partner agencies have made a commitment to work with Avenue of Life and their case manager to break down the barriers and overcome the bureaucratic challenges for each family. As the families (both parents and kids) develop the skills (like budgeting and caring for a home), Avenue of Life helps them find dignified, affordable housing. The support then continues for that family until all of their children have graduated from high school, helping to ensure that they don't fall back into old habits.
Numbers show it has worked. Over 95% of the families placed in permanent housing are still housed 18 months after placement. The L.P. Cookingham Institute of Urban Affairs at the University of Missouri-Kansas City has been chronicling its success.
Impact Center is working closely with the leaders of the Avenue of Life program to replicate the model in the Center community. A community non-profit organization called Serve the World Charities is serving as the backbone agency (same role played by Avenue of Life in KCK).
Serve the World, in conjunction with several other community organizations including Colonial Presbyterian Church, Caring for Kids, Holmeswood Baptist Church and the Center School District have organized the Impact Center program. A variety of partner agencies have been recruited and have agreed to participate. The program is working on a small scale with a group of families, and is already starting to show success.
The next step is to raise the funds to hire a case manager so that the program can be expanded.
How to help
In 2019, the Center Education Foundation Board of Directors decided to support the Impact Center Program as a major initiative. The foundation is seeking funding for the case manager position to support Center students and families.
Former Mayor Sly James is scheduled to help give the campaign a boost by appearing on a Facebook Live stream from the annual Alumni Dinner from Center High School Oct. 11 on the foundation’s Facebook page.
The families in need have hit a point in life where they cannot dig out of the hole by themselves. They need a friend. Impact Center will provide that friend in the form of the case manager. And that friend will have access to the resources of the entire community to help the family get out of the hole, find stability in their life, and allow their children to thrive and build a brighter future for their life.
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