Educators, policy-makers, and philanthropists unite with a common goal: to end homelessness in Minnesota.
Ask any group of students how they feel about homework, and you’ll likely get the same eye-rolling, sighing response.
But for students experiencing housing insecurity—for whom home is a nebulous or nonexistent idea—the anxiety is much higher. And that basic factor, research shows, has a profound impact on students’ ability to achieve in the classroom and to thrive long-term.
It makes sense that efforts at improving students’ wellbeing—whether funded publicly or through private gifts—are more effective when families have stable, affordable, and safe housing. But in fall of 2016, more than 9,500 students enrolled in Minnesota’s public and charter schools experienced homelessness, with students of color—especially American Indian and African American students—having an especially high rate of instability. And the challenge isn’t isolated in any geographic area. Those students were attending 1,241 different schools in 77 counties and 300 districts. Widespread family homelessness is thwarting even the most well-developed efforts at improving educational equity.
So for the first time ever, a group of educators, philanthropists, and policy-makers are working together—under the name Heading Home Minnesota—to put a stop to the homelessness epidemic statewide. The idea is simple: to align systems and eliminate barriers in order to meet students’ basic need for a place to call home.
The group meets regularly, sharing best practices and the latest in legislation and policy to support one another. And since the Heading Home Minnesota launched in December 2013—with $1.9 million given to related initiatives in the years since—family homelessness has decreased 23 percent in the state of Minnesota, with overall housing insecurity decreasing 13 percent. And lawmakers are taking notice. For the 2018-2019 fiscal year, Governor Dayton has dedicated $8 million of the state’s budget to fund specific initiatives proposed by the collaborative.
“Educators throughout the state are certain that homelessness among students has both immediate and lasting negative implications on educational outcomes and future success,” says Ryan Strack, Manager of Homeless and Highly Mobile Student Services for Minneapolis Public Schools. In his role, he’s seen the impact of homelessness firsthand, and he’s working with the group to develop holistic educational programs that start by securing safe, consistent housing for families. “These types of strategies maximize the return on the state’s investments in education and also help achieve workforce development goals. I find it incredibly hopeful that partners from all sectors focused on this issue from both housing and educational perspectives. In the ten years I’ve been working at the intersection of education and homelessness, there’s never been this level of coordinated effort and awareness on so many fronts.”
Nancy Jost, Early Childhood Coordinator for the West Central Initiative and Chair of Minnesota’s Early Learning Council, agrees wholeheartedly. “In order to provide high-quality early childhood education for our youngest children we must also work to stabilize housing for their parents and older siblings,” she says. Jost explains that the issues of improving education and ensuring quality housing simply can’t be separated, and she’s excited about the potential of such cross-disciplinary synergy because “children of all ages need to have the stability that affordable, safe housing provides in order to come into the classroom ready to learn,” Jost says. “Parents need to have housing stability in order to be able to provide for their children both economically and developmentally. Without stable housing the investments made in early childhood programming cannot reach their full potential.“
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