1,204 Homeless Children Ready for School Thanks to Project Cool

Be Cool! Project Cool for Back to School 2012 Buttons

After months of preparation, we are celebrating the smooth and successful distribution of 1,204 Project Cool backpacks to homeless children across King County. This August, more than 150 awesome volunteers gathered together over 4 days in the basement of the Columbia City Church of Hope to prepare school supplies and then fill and distribute backpacks for homeless students ages 3 to 18. You guys ROCK! Last Tuesday, Project Cool backpacks went out to 14 different Coalition member agencies to support the education of the children they serve in their various homeless housing programs (including emergency shelter and transitional housing).

We know the need is great. In the 2010-2011 school year, 4,423 students (pre-k through high school) were identified as homeless in King County school districts; 26,049 students across all Washington State schools. This was a 19% increase from the previous year and a 55% increase from 2006-2007 (for more information visit http://schoolhousewa.org/). A new backpack filled with the tools students need tells kids that they belong and gives parents one less financial burden to bear.

Backpacks may be out the door, but the work to support the education of homeless students does not stop here. Seattle Public School starts in just a couple weeks on September 5. The instability of homelessness makes stability in school that much more important for children. Luckily, homeless students have several educational rights under an important federal law – the McKinney Vento Education Act –, which helps advocates and families keep children in school even if they don’t have the right paperwork to enroll or their address changes every 60 days. The Coalition’s August 22 “Helping Homeless Students: McKinney Vento 101” training will prepare school personnel and service providers to help homeless students stay in school.

Eric joined us on August 11 with the RBUCC Youth Group. Filling hundreds of backpacks with school supplies can be tiring work!

None of this work could be possible without the support of the hundreds of individuals who hosted donation drives, donated personally, and volunteered to help prepare backpacks. Project Cool is a volunteer driven project – coordinated by an AmeriCorps VISTA and supported by people like you: concerned community members, local businesses, and Coalition members. A BIG THANK YOU to everyone who came out on August 2, 4, 11, and 14 to help prepare Project Cool backpacks – we welcomed the passionate help of many community members including several old hats and Project Cool newbies like the Redmond Beach UCC Youth Group and members of local non-profit young professionals group, Ascend. THANK YOU!

Comment on HEARTH and McKinney Vento proposed changes

During our General Membership meeting yesterday, Kate Speltz did an amazing job walking our members through the Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) proposed changes to the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act as it relates to the Interim Continuum of Care (CoC) rule.  If you think this topic sounds esoteric, than you’re right.  This stuff is really complicated, but it’s also THE legislation that regulates significant funding for homeless prevention, housing, and services federally and at the state level through competitive grants.  The National Alliance to End Homelessness has done an admirable job summarizing the proposed changes and Kate pulled out the parts of the CoC rule which services providers and organizations who serve the homeless would be most impacted by.

The proposed CoC rule will go into effect on August 30th and individuals and organizations are encouraged to submit comments to HUD before October 1, 2012.  Kate is interested in receiving comments from providers and organizations which will help to inform the Seattle-King County response to the proposal, however she encourages all concerned individuals to comment directly to HUD.  Here are two areas in the proposal that Kate thinks service providers and homeless and housing advocates might like to comment on:

  • McKinney Vento allowable funding. The current proposal specifically identifies which services can be paid for with McKinney funding. You are encouraged to review that list for services that you believe are important. Interpretation services, for example, are not currently included in the list.  We know that many housing and homeless service organizations rely heavily on interpretive services when assessing, screening and serving homeless individuals.
  • This proposal also requires states to setup and use a centralized or coordinated assessment system for all people entering the homeless assistance system by the end of 2014.  It isn’t completely clear what it means to coordinate assessment, but the deadline is set.  You might want to comment on the approach and/or the time frame.

If you want to send your comments to King County email them to: DCHS@kingcounty.gov

Send comments directly to HUD through the Federal Regulations website.

 

 

Legislative Champion Awards!

SKCCH invited all state legislators from King County who worked hard on our priorities and helped preserve the safety net for the homeless and low income in the last Legislative session to be personally recognized at our General Membership meeting this Thursday, July 19th.

I’m pleased to announce that 8 Legislators are able to attend on Thursday to receive thanks and awards from SKCCH members.  Legislators attending are: Sen. David Frockt (aide will attend on his behalf) (46); Sen. Sharon Nelson (46); Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (34); Rep. Speaker Frank Chopp (43); Rep. Hans Dunshee (44); Rep. Gutierrez-Kenney (retiring from 46); Sen. Adam Kline (37); and Rep. Tina Orwall (33).

This event is open to the public and will be held at the E. Cherry YWCA from 9-11 a.m.

Homelessness is Hard for Kids

Project Cool Donate Here poster
Project Cool Donate Here poster

Friday morning, Kathleen called me from the road: “Hi Ally, I’m about 5 minutes away. Do you have a cart that we could use to unload the supplies? I don’t think we can carry it all in a single trip.” Last Friday, Kathleen Cromp, member and Sunday school teacher at the University Unitarian Church and Executive Director of local nonprofit Wallingford Community Senior Center, dropped by the SKCCH office with the back seat of her car filled to the roof with school supplies for Project Cool for Back to School.

The numerous boxes and bags of supplies Kathleen had brought to donate was a result of her work with a Sunday school class of 2nd and 3rd graders at the University Unitarian Church. This spring the class discussed issues of homelessness in our community and after weeks of discussion the kids wanted to take action and do something to help. The class partnered with Project Cool for Back to School and hosted a supply drive at the University Unitarian Church to collect school supplies, toothbrushes, and toothpaste for homeless students across King County starting school in September. The students worked hard to bring in donations for Project Cool by making collection boxes, designing and hanging posters (like the one pictured here) to solicit donations, sending out emails to church members, and speaking about their supply drive in front of the entire congregation during Sunday church service!

These kids are right, homelessness is hard for kids. School can be an important source of stability for a child, especially when life outside of school is confusing and unpredictable. Just getting to school for a child staying at a shelter across town can be a nearly insurmountable challenge. Making sure children have the tools for success in school is a simple but important step in helping a homeless student fit in, learn, and go far.

As Kathleen and I unloaded boxes upon boxes of toothpaste, toothbrushes, folders, binders, glue sticks, crayons, paper, notebooks, pencils, and markers onto my cart last week, I was overcome by the generosity of the UUC congregation and the amazing impact that can be had when 15 youth speak up in support of equal education and opportunity for every student in our community.