Students Homelessness Initiative Program (SHIP) sets sail in Frederick County

amycindyed260x175INTRODUCTION by Ed Hinde

We all go through unexpected “life experiences” on occasion. And these experiences often hold important lessons that may only reveal themselves over time. Sometimes, the catalyst is a figurative punch in the stomach, an immediate slap across the face that causes one to pause, to reconsider previously held “truths,” and to take action, because it’s the right thing to do.

Such has been my experience as part of the development of the Student Homelessness Initiative Partnership of Frederick County.

My friend, Amy Draper, has been a vital part of this remarkable community driven effort. Last week, she spoke at a downtown event held to raise money for this new initiative. Below is the text of her remarks, which do a great job of explaining how this happened, in a very personal and engaging way.

I hope you’ll read Amy’s story about how average people, responding to a real problem, affecting real people in their community, have stepped up, together, to seek solutions. It’s a still-evolving story about how shared values and personal commitment within our community can make a difference to hundreds of children defined as “homeless” that attend Frederick County public schools.

It has been said that “poverty doesn’t have a face.” In this case, in our neighborhoods, in our county, poverty does have a face – the face of a child.


Good afternoon and thank you for being here. My name is Amy Draper. I’ve been a Frederick City resident for over 20 years. I have two boys in the Frederick County Public School system, I own my own yoga business and I am involved in various community activities.

I have a dual role today. One, I’m modeling the fashionable spring clothes from Alicia-L’s and two, I’m speaking on behalf of the Students Homelessness Initiative Partnership. Thank you for giving me a few moments of your time.

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I want to begin by thanking Pat, Kirsten and the staff at Alicia L’s Boutique for so graciously offering to have today’s event benefit the Students Homelessness Initiative Partnership. Pat has been a generous supporter and advocate for this grass roots initiative since it began just a few months ago and we are so pleased that she organized today’s event. Thank you Pat!

I want to tell you a little bit about how we started, some of the work that we have done and where we plan to go from here.

November was National Homelessness and Hunger Awareness Month. Last November, Joey Hoffman who is a member of the Homeless Coalition here in Frederick, spearheaded a month-long awareness campaign. It included a showing of a very powerful film about hunger in America called, “A Place at the Table“, and the organization of an event called “The Poverty Forum ~ Creating a Collaborative Community.”

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My friend Cindy D’Aquino attended both of these events which ultimately connected her to Zoe Carson, the Student Homeless Coordinator with Frederick County Public Schools. Let me give you a brief overview of Zoe’s role for anyone who is not familiar with it.

Zoe Carson holds a federally mandated part-time position as part of the McKinney-Vento Act. This act was put in place to ensure that students who lacked a fixed, regular or adequate nighttime residence could get to school each day. Some examples of children who would fall under this definition include:

• Children sharing housing due to economic hardship or loss of housing;

• Children living in “motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camp grounds due to lack of alternative accommodations”

• Children living in “emergency or transitional shelters”

• Children “awaiting foster care placement”

• Children whose primary nighttime residence is not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (e.g. park benches, etc.)

• Children living in “cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations…”

All states must have homeless coordinators in their school systems.

In addition to her duties to comply with this act, Zoe began coordinating various emergency needs for homeless students in the community. She developed an email distribution list that was being sent to a few people in the community. When she would hear about a need for a student, she would email the needs out and would rely on the community to fulfill the needs.

Cindy had her name added to this distribution list, and in early November she forwarded me an email about a homeless boy in our community who needed shoes because he only had the pair of flip flops that he had been wearing since summer. It was freezing at the time, the beginning of what we all know has been a very long, cold winter. I remember looking at the email with such disbelief that a boy, close to my own son’s age, had no home, no warm clothing and no shoes. It broke my heart.

I forwarded the email request to my yoga students. One of my students, Ed Hinde, took the request and posted it on his Facebook page. From there it was shared 48 times. From contacts that Cindy, Ed and I had reached, we were able to collect a Jeep full of shoes, clothing, coats, toiletries and other donations to help this student and any others who would need what we collected.

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These grass roots efforts not only provided immediate relief to those in need, they ultimately helped create a movement in our community. From donors to volunteers, there were so many people who pitched in to make this happen.

A couple of weeks later, Cindy and I became aware of a mother with three small children who were staying at the Econolodge because they had recently become homeless. The Econolodge is one of a few hotels in the area that will provide emergency housing to people in need. A limited number of nights are paid for by various organizations in the community. This family’s stay was about to expire so this mother with three children ages 5, 3 and 11 months, were facing the reality of living outside in the elements. Without much of a plan, Cindy and I filled up a cooler with healthy food because the Econolodge had no refrigerator in the motel room and gathered diapers, formula and other essentials to bring to this family. This is when we had a chance to meet Katie and her three children, the family who we came to assist. Katie has joined us today in support of our group’s efforts. Thank you for being here Katie.

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We soon found that a person in a position like Katie’s was facing a daunting task. There is so much to manage and think about and people in situations like this do not know where to turn. While there are many resources available in the county, it is not clear where you are supposed to go and how to get help. So we organized some additional resources from our generous community, provided hot meals to Katie and her family, transported her to appointments, extended her stay at the hotel, helped her navigate the system to get to the resources she needed and really just tried to provide some breathing room for Katie. Ultimately we worked with Katie to get into the Advocates for Homeless Families program. She was accepted there about a month after we met her and she moved in the day after Christmas.

Through the effort of gathering shoes for the first middle school student, to the work that we did with Katie and her family and the others that came after, it was clear that we needed a way to help other children in our community who were facing homelessness.

Ed set up a Facebook group of caring citizens to communicate additional needs related to homeless students in our community. As needs were identified, our community participated by providing emergency housing, food, clothing and other services to those in need. This group, called Frederick County Homeless Students Initiative on Facebook, began with just a few members and has grown to more than 880 members in the past couple of months.  Ed has done a phenomenal job facilitating this group and making sure the voices of the students experiencing homelessness are heard. I encourage you to visit the page. You will see the inspired action of so many compassionate people in our community who have rallied around this important cause.

We decided to formally organize the group so that it can continue to effectively advocate for these children in our community, provide them with emergency and short-term support, assist families in navigating and accessing community services and collaborate with FCPS and other organizations to best improve the community for all of these students and their families. This group is now being called the Students Homelessness Initiative Partnership (SHIP) of Frederick County.

The early efforts of supplying shoes, clothing, and shelter to specific families experiencing homelessness brought this group together. Through continued efforts we realized that there are hundreds of students within the FCPS system defined as “homeless”. And we discovered that there are very few coordinated resources within the community that are allocated to student homelessness.

Since we began the Facebook group in early December, we have identified needs in the community and have been assisting families with needs in navigating the resources available to them, securing proper documentation, applying for resources, advocating for more permanent housing, receiving proper food, clothing and other necessities. Also, we believe that we have raised the issue of student homelessness to a much higher profile within the community via media and other activities.

As we continue with these action-oriented efforts, we are in the process of formally organizing the group under a non-profit status. This will allow the organization to be seen as a credible, legitimate group that can better facilitate funding and other efforts. A leadership board is being established along with specific committees that can focus on achieving the group’s mission.

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Many of you have asked how you can help our group with our mission. There are a number of ways. I encourage you to visit the Facebook group page of Frederick County Homeless Students Initiative. Become a member and get updates.

We have a number of ways in which you can volunteer. You can connect with us in person or on Facebook if you are interested. You can donate items that are needed for the families we are assisting.

Once we are formally organized, you can donate to the group to support its efforts.

The acronym for the Students Homelessness Initiative Program is SHIP. I found this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr that seemed fitting:

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

I sincerely thank you for the support that you have already provided and want to say how proud I am to be part of such a caring and big-hearted community. Your compassion and generosity are so greatly appreciated. Thank you for being part of this movement and for helping this SHIP set sail.

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More information

Frederick County Homeless Students Initiative on Facebook

Support For A 12-Month Frederick Homeless Shelter on Facebook

Facebook EVENT page for “Addressing Poverty: Listening to the Voices of the Homeless” on Thursday, March 27at 12:00pm – 2:00pm at the C. Burr Artz Public Library.

LOCAL RESOURCES FOR FAMILIES AND INDIVIDUALS FACING HOMELESSNESS

2013 Poverty Fact Sheet (pdf file) from The Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs

Spring 2014 Newsletter (pdf file) from The Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs

Envision Frederick County
Support a 12-Month Homeless Shelter in Frederick (by Katie Nash)
March 18, 2014

Envision Frederick County
Caring For “Our Young Man”
December 15, 2013

Frederick Gorilla Magazine
No Place Like Home
January 29, 2014

Gazette
Agency counts homeless population in Frederick County
January 25, 2012

Frederick Magazine
In Plain Sight: The Faces of Frederick’s Homeless Reveal Hurt and Hope
December 12, 2013

A selection of recent articles, columns, editorials and letters to the editor in the Frederick News Post:

Year-round shelter proposed as part of expanding Frederick’s housing programs
Thursday, March 13, 2014

Community rallies for homeless students
Letter to the Editor (by Liz Barrett)
Sunday, March 9, 2014

Putting homeless students in the spotlight
Editorial
Saturday, March 8, 2014

Failing homeless students
Letter to the Editor (by Ed Hinde)
Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Advocates eye budget to heal homelessness
Friday, February 21, 2014

Getting home
Friday, February 21, 2014

Organizations count homeless in Frederick
Thursday, January 30, 2014

Poverty forum exposes gaps in services
Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Year-round shelter
Editorial
Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Officials: Open emergency shelter year-round
Saturday, January 18, 2014

Community collaborates to address poverty
Friday, January 10, 2014

Frederick increases services for homeless in response to extreme cold
Monday, January 6, 2014

Don’t forget election promise
Letter to the Editor (by Katie Nash)
Friday, December 27, 2013

A home of their own in time for the season
Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Whose problem is it, anyway? (by Fred Ugast)
Thursday, December 12, 2013

Help for homeless student
Monday, November 18, 2013

Frederick’s cold-weather shelter opens tonight
Wednesday, November 13, 2013