Bullock, Curry highlight issue of student homelessness

Nov. 14-18 is Student Homelessness Awareness Week

HARRISBURG, NOV. 15 – State Reps. Donna Bullock, D-Phila., and Gina Curry, D-Delaware, held a news conference Monday to mark Student Homelessness Awareness Week and educate the public about the prevalence of students experiencing homelessness in Pennsylvania.

In the 2020-21 school year, 32,666 students in Pennsylvania schools were homeless or living without adequate housing.

“It’s unacceptable that more than 32,000 of our students have recently experienced homelessness or have dealt with inadequate housing. While that number represents a decrease from previous years, it’s still too high,” Bullock said. “We want residents of the commonwealth to recognize that education provides stability and support to youth experiencing homelessness and is a key to preventing future homelessness. We need to do everything we can to support education and our students.”

Out of 786 local education agencies in Pennsylvania, 713 are receiving McKinney-Vento subgrants to abate the challenges in their communities. The McKinney-Vento Act states that an individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence is considered homeless.

Identifying homelessness can be difficult. According to experts, families experiencing homelessness often keep their situation and circumstances hidden from friends, program staff and others. Many families say that they worry about being judged or are fearful of child welfare involvement.

“Schools are mostly in a reactive mode when it comes to dealing with student homelessness. We do our best to identify and support those who are experiencing it. What we need to do is work to come up with more proactive measures to reduce the statistic of homeless students,” said Matt LaBuda, assistant to superintendent in the Northern York School District.

“There are exciting changes afoot in the General Assembly, and I look forward to finding ways that we can continue supporting paths to housing security, delivering more resources to our schools and children’s programs, and by making those resources recurring,” Curry said. “We don’t end child homelessness by standing by. We need to dive into identifying and improving policies and supports that matter to students and their families. We need to embrace our private partners, who do so much work for these children, and we need to bring more resources to our public advocates, as well.”

The speakers advocated for reaching out to the public through as many avenues as possible.

“I experienced homelessness as a child, and now I stand before you today successful and confident. But I didn’t do this on my own, I did it with the help of a social safety net,” said Nikki Johnson-Alfano, Ms. Pennsylvania 2020. “As I’ve grown up, I’ve seen that the social safety net is fraying and it’s not as available for people. You shouldn’t have to be lucky or gifted to be deserving of a roof over your head.”

“There are 33,000 students that we had identified as experiencing homelessness, but I guarantee that number is higher. This week is so important to bring awareness to this issue, and together we can make a difference. We can be the starting ripple to make a change and help these students,” said Sonia Pitzi, program coordinator for Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness.