Partnership aims to help homeless students

According to Schoolhouse Link, a program with the Sarasota Family YMCA, there are 784 homeless students registered in Sarasota County, and 14 are from Englewood.

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation forged a relationship with Schoolhouse Link more than a year ago to improve efficiency and resources for homeless students and their families in Sarasota County.

“Gulf Coast helped us with childcare resources, to hire a social worker and a database,” said Ellen McLaughlin, program director and homeless liaison at Schoolhouse Link. “Before we had the database, everything was handwritten.”    The foundation provided the $45,000 annual salary for the social worker, as well as the $6,000 for the database.

“We heard from Gulf Coast Community Foundation after they saw a CBS ‘60 Minutes’ segment on homeless students,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said it was difficult to work with the families prior to the foundation’s help.

“It was difficult to track families,” she said. “Very often phones don’t work, and they usually move around and the only way to track them is through (the children’s schools), thanks to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which said that kids have the right to receive transportation to the same school regardless of how many times they move. The relationship (with GCCF) opens up systemic change (to) the way families (can) get help.”

The McKinney-Vento act, originally passed in 1987, is a program that provides federal money for homeless shelter programs. The act was reauthorized as part of the No Child Left Behind Act in January 2002, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Mark Pritchett, senior vice president of community investment at GCCF, said Schoolhouse Link gets $100,000 a year in contributions.

“We’re funded out of our endowment and we have donors,” Pritchett said. “We give more than money. More than 20 agencies like (The) Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Resurrection House and (the) Community Assistance Ministry go through Schoolhouse Link to help the homeless families.”

Pritchett said the foundation funds emergency shelter, transportation, child care, food, clothing, job training or whatever the family needs to get back on their feet.

With the partnership, McLaughlin said, there may be more in the future to help the homeless in Sarasota County.

“Progress is definitely being made,” McLaughlin said. “There are more services in South Sarasota County than before. They’re talking about a different level of care, a tier system of service.”

For more information about Schoolhouse Link and the McKinney-Vento act, go to http://www.thesarasotay.org/YouthFamilyServices/ SchoolhouseLink.aspx.

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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