Homeless students

Our report last week on the release of federal funds to area schools to support homeless students was accompanied by a chart broken down by school district. The numbers in the chart were eye-catching, but in a surprising way.

The funds are part of the American Rescue Plan COVID-19 stimulus package approved in March by Congress and are directed to assist students experiencing housing insecurity. Overall, New Hampshire received $2.3 million, and the state education department recently announced allocations of more than $1.7 million to schools statewide. Of that, the allocation to school districts in this area was more than $95,000.

The grants will supplement funding the districts receive under Title I of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. These funds can be used by schools for a variety of purposes to address homelessness among students, such as defraying the costs of health and transportation services, purchasing clothing and school supplies and providing free or reduced-cost lunch assistance. Uses for the just-released ARP allocations to area schools could include increasing counseling and social work services, facilitating access by families and students to housing support, child care, shelter and other services and increasing outreach and communication to identify those needing assistance.

The size of the allocations for area schools is not large. In this region, Keene’s was the largest at $23,000. But they are on top of existing funding to assist homeless students, and, as Monadnock Regional School District Assistant Superintendent Jeremey Rathbun told The Sentinel, its allocation will allow it to do more than what the district’s been doing and “we’re excited about that.”

The added federal assistance comes as a welcome boost at a time of increased concern about housing insecurity. Putting that concern in stark relief were the numbers in the chart accompanying our report last week that details the ARP allocations by school district. Each district’s allocation is determined by a formula based on population, poverty and homelessness, and the chart shows the number of students experiencing homelessness by school district. Disturbing it is that for the 2019-2020 school year, more than 240 students experienced homelessness.

That number will be shortly updated for the most recent school year, but it would be a surprise if the number has not risen as the pandemic’s disruptions have continued. Moreover, Jennifer Alexander, who’s the Keene district’s liaison for federally required services and support to youth experiencing homelessness, told The Sentinel it’s an especially difficult time for families lacking stable housing while other COVID-19 assistance programs are winding down. In particular, the recent lifting of the eviction moratorium established earlier in the pandemic won’t help matters. Alexander says that since the moratorium’s end she has noticed an increase in the number of families doubling up in housing, “not by choice but by hardship.”

There’s been considerable attention paid to the serious need for affordable housing both statewide and in the region. Some may find that concern abstract and understanding the extent of it difficult to gauge, thinking it’s best measured only by the numbers staying in homeless shelters in the dead of winter. The numbers of students experiencing housing insecurity used to determine the ARP allocations make understanding the problem simple. Over 240 students — quite likely even more now — are experiencing homelessness concerns. Even assuming two students per household, that’s more than 120 of the region’s families. Let there be no doubt there’s an affordable-housing crisis, and it urgently needs addressing.

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