Student Homeless Initiative Partnership (SHIP) working to help homeless students

There are hundreds of homeless children in Frederick County Public Schools.

As Frederick County Public Schools begins the new 2015-16 school year, the Student Homeless Initiative Partnership (or commonly known as SHIP) of Frederick County is prepared to attend to the needs of the nearly 1,000 students in our schools who are expected to encounter homelessness over the next 10 months.

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The number of identified homeless children within FCPS schools has increased between 15 to 18 percent each year for the past seven years running. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there is an estimated 1.3 million children in the country’s public schools, with approximately 13,000 in the state of Maryland alone. Speak with experts, and most feel that these numbers are very underreported.

Homelessness in the case of Frederick County Public Schools is defined by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, a federal law that ensures immediate enrollment and educational stability for homeless children and youth.

This law defines homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” Every public school system in the country is required to be in compliance with this federal law. The act provides examples of children who would fall under this definition:

  • Children and youth sharing housing due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason.
  • Children and youth living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or campgrounds due to lack of alternative accommodations.
  • Children and youth living in emergency or transitional shelters.
  • Children and youth abandoned in hospitals.
  • Children and youth awaiting foster care placement.
  • Children and youth whose primary nighttime residence is not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (e.g., park benches, etc.).
  • Children and youth living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations.
  • Migratory children and youth living in any of the above situations.

Here in Frederick County, our schoolchildren have experienced and continue to experience every one of these homeless situations.

Rather than sit idle while our children faced homeless conditions, Frederick County mobilized. Approximately 20 months ago, concerned residents bonded together and formed SHIP, a nonprofit organization that now totals over 2,000 member contributors called “SHIPmates,” who typically respond quickly to the needs of these children identified on the group’s Facebook page. These needs range from clothing, snacks and food, funding for extracurricular after-school activities that the children desire to participate in, and when no other options exist, emergency shelter for the students and their families when they first fall in to homelessness.

With 26 percent of FCPS students living at or below the poverty level, many families are an illness or a lost job or a broken-down car away from homelessness. While some are homeless because of a lack of affordable housing locally, there are other factors that can contribute to a family becoming homeless or having to move frequently. Each homeless or highly mobile situation is unique. For the children affected, attending school offers consistency and a touch of normalcy in what is otherwise a very challenging set of life circumstances.

Local Civil War historians have told me that Frederick County is a caring and compassionate place, in part due to our role as a hospital community after the battles of Antietam, Gettysburg and Monocacy over 150 years ago. It’s in our DNA; it’s what we do. I’ve seen it demonstrated time after time, day after day as we do our work to assist these children of ours.

SHIP of Frederick County and its member contributors stand ready to offer relief and support to these students of ours. Won’t you join us?

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This was also published as a Letter to the Editor in the Frederick News Post.

SHIPlogosmallerSHIP on the web

SHIP on Facebook

See also:

Envision Frederick County
Students Homelessness Initiative Program (SHIP) sets sail in Frederick County
March 21, 2014
BY Amy Draper