On January 15th, Betsey Schuhle, CASDA Associate Director, brought together educators and school administrators with advocates from Capital Region shelters and outreach organizations for a “Bridging the Gap for Homeless Students” panel discussion. Connie Adsitt from Equinox in Albany, Connie McCracken from SAFE House in Schenectady and Wilfredo Rodriguez from Captain in Clifton Park offered participants insightful background information about the mission of their organizations as well as the scope of services they provide to homeless and at-risk youth. Attendees represented a diverse cross-section of educators, from full-time homeless student liaisons to school counselors, attendance officers and administrators confronting student homelessness for the first time.
The discussion was driven by one central question from educators: “what can we do?” The trauma and uncertainty that homeless students face on a daily basis, the privation and instability that permeates every aspect of their lives can leave even the most well-meaning, sensitive educators grasping at straws in an effort to provide some measure of compassion and assistance. The issues grow even more complex as government institutions such as Child Protective Services, the Department of Social Services and the court system become involved in student’s cases. While the multitude of legal protocols are in place to protect the rights of students, their daunting complexity often presents difficulties for those in the educational community who are desperate to help.
This complexity and ambiguity presents educators with difficult decisions. A conference attendee explained a situation in which a student left their family because they did not feel safe and supported. This educator was aware of the student’s family struggle, but was conflicted about contacting Social Services out of fear that officials would require the student to return to an environment that was clearly hostile and unsupportive. The panelists and fellow participants were able to offer insight drawn from their experiences in similar, conflicted, “gray-area” situations. In openly sharing these experiences, the participants broadened their knowledge and offered each other a great deal of support in facing an overwhelming and emotionally charged situation.
While student homelessness is a problem that schools cannot face alone, the discussions at the “Bridging the Gap for Homeless Students” showed a community of educators that is committed to helping their students in any way possible. With the information and resources offered by the outreach advocates and the support drawn from their scholastic colleagues, attendees will be empowered to protect the rights of homeless students and ensure them access to a quality education.