As you come to a stop on the highway exit ramp you see an older man, shoulders rounded forward, head hung low. Each wrinkle on his face seems to tell its own story, and he’s holding a sign asking for help to get food. This is the face of homelessness, so you think.
Now imagine this: a high school student sitting in homeroom, frantically looking around wondering if the students around her know her secret. She doesn’t have a home and isn’t sure where she’ll sleep tonight.
Unfortunately, this too is the face of homelessness. There were 2,600 homeless students attending Toledo Public Schools (TPS) last school year, which has increased from previous years. Of those, 400 were living at area homeless shelters, and 2,200 were without a permanent home, couch surfing, sleeping on floors, and doubled up with other families according to Heather Baker, Director of People Placement and Child Adjustment Services at TPS.
When you see these children, they may not “look” homeless, however, they often do not have the basic supplies and uniforms to be successful in school. On top of that, they could possibly have behavioral issues due to the stress and trauma of not having a home, or they could be exhausted and tired from not having a bed or sharing a bed with multiple people. TPS teachers, counselors, and administrators are empowered to reach out to parents and do home visits and report issues to the Child Adjustment Services Department.
Janice McWilliams, TPS School Liasion, and founder of Divine Families LLC has been working for nearly two decades to build a rapport to help the most vulnerable and at risk. “Homlessness isn’t just for drug addicts and prostitutes. Every day people are just one paycheck away from not having a place to live. I’ve seen it time and time again. Being homeless also doesn’t mean that you should give up on your dreams,” said McWilliams. McWilliams and Baker often rely on United Way and Lutheran Social Services to connect families to the resources they need, such as housing, transportation vouchers, school uniforms, clothing, food, and more. Often dialing 211 for help is one of the first steps TPS does to get students lined up with assistance. “Many people don’t think you deserve anything when you’re down on your luck. If you’re always existing in crisis mode, it’s hard to see what needs to be done,” Baker said.
She explains they’ve even had local auto mechanics donate their services to fix vehicles for families in need. Something like not having transportation can keep a student out of school for multiple days and weeks at a time. Baker says that the goal of her office is to keep their students as stable as possible, and locate “wrap around” services to try to meet every need. Community partners have been extremely vital in assisting with needs, and TPS is always looking for more resources.
“Some things people don’t think about when dealing with homeless families is counseling service, mental health support, and self care which is desperately needed,” said Baker. “The whole world has crumbled down around these families, and they cannot control what they eat or where they sleep, however, they can control how they look.”
If you have a business, especially counseling and mental health services and self care, and would like to be listed in TPS’s Community Resource Database please contact Heather Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org or Janice McWilliams at Reynolds Elementary School 5000 Norwich Rd 419-671-1500