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Helping homeless kids begins locally

Profile image for Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial
Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial

The Christmas lights are shining. The unemployment rate is at record lows and the stock market is on fire. Merchants are expecting holiday shoppers to open their wallets even wider than last year. Families will draw closer in coming weeks.

Therefore, it's the perfect time to focus on the least among us -- homeless children struggling to stay in school while dealing with hardships that most people can hardly imagine. They live on a relative's couch or in a motel with a single parent who could be addicted to drugs or alcohol. They sleep in tents, cars or in abandoned buildings.

Denton ISD reports serving 531 homeless students this school year.

A report issued this week by the Texas Homeless Education Office estimates that more than 113,000 students in Texas met the "homeless" definition in school year 2014-15, the last year for which data is available. As a group, they score 10 percent to 15 percent lower than students who live in stable homes.

Unfortunately, we are not talking about unruly high school students who couch surf at the homes of friends because they're rebelling against parental rules. The data show that 70 percent of homeless students are enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade, which means children aged 5 through 14.

The data indicate the problem is getting worse.

In Denton County, for example, the state homeless education office reports an alarming trend: 1,079 homeless children in 2012-13, 1,700 in 2013-14 and 2,096 in 2014-15. The numbers represent a 94 percent increase during the three-year period. Undoubtedly, part of the increase results from better reporting at the school-district level.

Despite the challenges, public school administrators and teachers are doing their best to educate these children who find themselves on the margins of society through no fault of their own.

This does not appear to be a problem money can solve. Funding to track the problem and find solutions has steadily increased under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act, a 1987 federal law to help the homeless.

Even though child homelessness is a national problem, it can only be solved at the local level. Smart caring people who work in public education or at social service agencies are putting their heads together to come up with creative solutions -- case by troubling case.

As you get ready for the holidays and start humming the tune to "Frosty the Snowman," keep an eye out for children yet to be identified as homeless. It might be a child whose family was recently evicted from an apartment. Or it may be the child of a single parent who recently landed in jail.

If you know of such a child, contact Barb Haflich, Denton ISD's coordinator of social services. Her phone number is 940-369-0598.