Homelessness on rise among Cy-Fair ISD students

Homelessness among Houston area students—including those at Cy-Fair ISD—is on the rise, and school districts are adapting to meet the needs of students who lack stable living arrangements. CFISD does so under the guidance of David Schrandt, homeless liaison to the district.

Schrandt and his staff offer programming to any student deemed homeless by the national definition outlined in the McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth Assistance Act. This includes students who live in motels, hotels, and emergency shelters because of the lack of other accommodations.

Schrandt said the most common of these circumstances for CFISD students are individuals who are “doubled up”—living in the homes of others because they do not have one of their own.

“Most … have to stay with others temporarily because they don’t have anywhere else to go,” he said. “If a teenager gets in a fight with their parents and gets kicked out, they might have to couch surf in between friends’ apartments without a true home to go back to.”

Once students are identified as homeless, they can receive services from the district. According to CFISD 1,494 of the district’s 113,689 enrolled students have been identified as homeless as of May 1.

Although Schrandt said he believes the number of homeless students is rising—both at CFISD and in districts across the state—it can be difficult to get an accurate assessment of the problem.

“[Homeless students] don’t want the stigma, they are proud, or they don’t know about our services,” he said. “That’s why we need to continue working on our training of district staff.”

Serving students

After inclement weather and disasters that likely affect a student’s living arrangement, Schrandt often visits damaged apartment complexes or shelters to see if any students require the district’s services.

“Families in transition are everywhere, including Cy-Fair, and we need to give them our support,” Schrandt said.

CFISD programs are tailored to meet both students’ everyday needs as well as their once-a-year necessities, he said. Each day, students are entitled to free breakfast and lunch and school of origin transportation, if necessary.

School of origin transportation gives students the right to continue attending the same school if they should move beyond school district or attendance boundaries for any reason. All transportation expenses would be taken care of by the district or shared between multiple districts if the student moves within another district’s boundaries.

Gabriel Hendley, a graduate of Cypress Creek High School who experienced bouts of homelessness throughout the 2015-16 year, said school of origin transportation allowed him and his family to continue attending classes.

“The counselors made sure we had a way to get to school, were always on the right track and were never at risk of dropping out,” Hendley said.

When the McKinney-Vento Homeless Act is reauthorized by the U.S. Department of Education in October through the Every Student Succeeds Act, the school of origin transportation rule will apply to pre-K schooling and feeder schools in between elementary and middle schools and middle and high schools, Schrandt said.

In addition to these everyday needs, Schrandt said his department breaks down barriers of enrollment that a homeless student might face.

“Those students might not have what everyone else has—birth certificates [and] proof of residency,” he said. “We do a lot of training with our registrars for this reason.”

Grant money

The Texas Support for Homeless Education Program grant funds a large portion of these programs. The grant, offered by the Texas Homeless Education Office, has a competitive application.

CFISD is on its fourth cycle with the grant. In the 2015-16 school year, the district received $116,493 from the grant. As of June, CFISD is one of 66 districts receiving the grant out of 1,027 total districts in Texas.

Statewide, CFISD is hailed as a model in providing services to homeless students, said Jeanne Stamp, director of the Texas Homeless Education Office.

Schrandt serves with the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth and was named outstanding homeless liaison of the year in 2013 at the Texas Conference on Ending Homelessness.

“Some people say, ‘Those aren’t our kids, we don’t have the money,’” said Jeanne Stamp, director of the Texas Homeless Education Office. “Cy-Fair has always been doing whatever it takes to make homeless students successful.”