Margaret Schuelke is being honored as a Champion of Change for her work to combat homelessness among children and youth.
DeKalb County, Georgia school social workers report that the number of students identified as homeless has increased by approximately forty percent over the past three years, surpassing over 2,000 students last year. This figure alone creates a compelling case for why taking new and creative steps to address family homelessness is absolutely necessary.
However, a statistic from the State Report Card on Homelessness creates an even greater sense of urgency. According to the report, less than 25% of homeless students in this country graduate from high school. This highlights the long-lasting, negative effects of homelessness on educational achievement, and in turn, on long-term prospects for financial stability.
At Project Community Connections, Inc. (PCCI), we believe there is a light at the beginning, middle, and end of the tunnel through homelessness, and we want to help shine that light. By partnering with other mission-minded people and organizations, PCCI helps families prevent, endure, and overcome homelessness. These organizations offer an array of vitally important, high quality services, but alone they are not enough to meet the many needs of most families experiencing homeless. That is why partners, who are equally committed to bringing hope, housing and wholeness, are critical to our mission.
Inspired by a mother and teen-age son struggling with homelessness, PCCI and four other well-established organizations joined forces in 2010 to create the DeKalb KidsHome Collaborative. The journey through homelessness is never easy, especially for a child. Unfortunately, schools, housing agencies, and homeless service providers have historically referred families back and forth for resources but rarely worked hand-in-hand to meet the particular needs of school-age children. “KidsHome” partners cross the traditional boundaries between educational and homeless/housing programs to improve student and family outcomes while leveraging resources and eliminating redundant efforts. As a result, the Collaborative is one of 14 sites in the country recently studied by researchers as a promising new model of integrating educational and housing supports.
The KidsHome Collaborative emerged out of recognition that agencies serving homeless people need each other to provide a holistic, yet targeted set of services to their clients. Rather than relying on a long list of local community service organizations, Collaborative members decided to formalize our relationships with each other, creating a sense of trust among partners and comfort knowing that clients will be served appropriately and in a timely manner. Each partner in the Collaborative communicates often and utilizes standardized forms and procedures to ensure consistency across our organizations. We believe the key to our success was identifying the services that are vital to stabilizing homeless families and then building the partnership among organizations that provide those services. Because most communities across the Country have organizations that provide each service included in our Collaborative model, we believe that forming this kind of collaborative should be possible anywhere.
Margaret Schuelke is the Executive Director of the Project Community Connections