The McKinney Program provides numerous services to homeless children, grades K-12 in Cottage Grove, Oregon. These include:
- Counseling: families, youth on their own, and referrals from the Kennedy Alternative High School counselor and the Transitions Office at Cottage Grove High School.
- Transportation: DHS, CHP, medical appointments, counseling sessions, dental visits, retrieval of possessions (typically from the previous temporary residence), abuse services (e.g. police, DHS), Community Sharing, laundry, shopping.
- Supplies: school, hygiene, gas cards, food cards, laundry vouchers, shoes and clothing. We also conduct an annual school supplies give-away that is open to all students who apply. Around 300 backpacks of school supplies, fine-tuned to the specific school, were passed out this year.
- Referrals: shelters, education, legal assistance, medical/dental, Tennant Based Assistance, Looking Glass (pending certification), Beds for Freezing Nights (pending).
Parent Partnership’s McKinney liaison is trusted by homeless children; word-of-mouth and referrals keep the census at an ever-increasing level. During 2009, 350 children received significant assistance; from the last quarter of 2009 through the first quarter of 2010, the number was 386, a significant increase in the tempo. The demographics of Lane County tell the tale: unemployment doubled between 2008 and 2009 (to 12%). For children under 18, the poverty level as nearly 40%. The proportion of homeless children enrolled in the South Lane School District is a very disturbing 10.04 percent.
As noted, we are trusted by the kids. They will come to us when they are reluctant to go to other “authorities.” We have a well established network of professionals and organizations who are able to help. Our current program director, Cindy Slaymaker, is a recognized authority on the local homeless scene and is highly dedicated to helping this population. While our community is increasingly aware of the problem, attention is often only focused when there is a tragedy (such as a homeless teen suicide). Local service clubs have provided desperately-needed funding assistance. Recently, a generous donation was received from the Elks Lodge; the STAR touring motorcycle club has dedicated a highly successful annual motorcycle rally to our homeless program. The Kiwanis have donated shoe vouchers. Other donors include the Rotary, Lane ESD, Riverside Church, the Coaquille Indian Foundation, and private donors. Local businesses, such as Cinderella’s consignment clothing store, Wal-Mart, and Shoestrings, contribute supplies.
Homelessness, particularly children on their own, is not a story that gets a lot of attention in the press. It isn’t pretty. Success stories are occasionally featured, but more often, the story reflects tragedy. People often would rather not look; some prefer to think it isn’t really a factor in our community. We have been very gratified by the attention paid by community members who have gone out of their way to help; however, we need more outreach to both the community (for support), and the client population (much of which remains invisible or undefined).
As to funding, the McKinney-Vento Act (part of No Child Left Behind) has provided the bulk of our funding; however, this source is sunsetting. We do expect some funding from federal Title I grants through the school district, as well as Title X funds through LESD, but this won’t make up the difference. The Lane County Coalition of Homeless Liaisons (a division of LESD) remains a limited source of revenue, however their grant expires next year. A replacement is being sought by LESD. More funding will be needed just to sustain the program, let alone grow it. Despite the recession and the state/county budget crises, we remain hopeful.
New organizations (such as Beds for Freezing Nights and Looking Glass) are seeking funds, sites, and certification; they will be valued partners in this effort. We have also identified a new population, pre-Kindergarten children from homeless families, who are currently underserved by the programs we conduct with the school district. We estimate that about 100 new children could be reached and helped.
Each year, the problem increases; each year, we rally our forces. We will continue to seek out and help challenged youth. We invite your help.