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Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Mortgage crisis fallout: Homeless kids

Marketplace Staff Sep 3, 2008
Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Mortgage crisis fallout: Homeless kids

Marketplace Staff Sep 3, 2008


KAI RYSSDAL: Unless and until Professor Shiller’s ideas take hold, the housing market’s still hurting. Add in the cost of gas and rising prices at the grocery store and the ripple effects are spreading.

In a lot of communities, schools are among the first places to feel the fallout. Some are reporting spikes in the number of homeless students this fall. In this second of our back-to-school stories, Mhari Saito from WCPN in Cleveland reports on how those districts, and their students, are coping.

MHARI SAITO: Akron school bus drivers are meeting in a high school cafeteria to talk logistics. Last winter, their department hit a record: On any given day, nearly one-third of Akron’s 78 school buses were out picking up homeless students at shelters, motels, or relatives’ and friends’ houses. So this year, transportation coordinator Kathy Kiehl is getting ready.

Kathy Kiehl: Every bus is available for shelter transport. We think at this point we may have to earmark a few till we see how things work out.

In one year, Akron Public Schools saw a 25 percent jump in the number of homeless students. Debra Manteghi works with homeless students in that district.

Debra Manteghi: Back in the 80’s, there was a lot we heard about homelessness and it kind of disappeared. But it’s emerging again because of the economy, this foreclosure crisis, credit card debt, and even some breakdown of the family.

Up the road in Cleveland, homeless advocates say evictions of low-income renters from foreclosed properties boosted the number of students without a permanent address by more than 30 percent last year.

Brian Davis heads the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

Brian Davis: It’s usually somebody who is living in a duplex or multifamily apartment building that’s been foreclosed on. And usually the tenant is the last to know in the whole process. They have usually a short period of time to relocate and have then trouble finding a place to live.

One such homeless tenant is Cleveland resident Clarice Hicks. While waiting for an after-school reading session for her children, the mom of four told me lots of people are in the same situation.

Clarice Hicks: I seen it happening an awful lot. My sister stayed downstairs from me and she had to move. So, she’s in the same process I’m in.

Hicks and her kids are now sleeping on the floor at the homes of friends and relatives.

Elizabeth Hinz at Minneapolis Public Schools sees a lot of people like this these days. Federal aid helps her district with these homeless students, but Hinz says it’s never been enough. Charities also help homeless students get school supplies, clothes and backpacks. But now, Hinz says, donations are dropping while the number of needy families is growing.

Elizabeth Hinz: We won’t necessarily have additional students in our school district, but the students who are experiencing this will certainly be living under great stress.

Deborah Rigsby is with the National School Boards Association. She says schools get federal aid for poor students. But local districts have to make up the gaps for growing demand as both food and gas costs rise. Many of these districts are already on a shoestring budget. And in some places, property taxes continue to fall because of the foreclosure crisis.

Deborah Rigsby: School districts are having to go back, to revamp, to try to close budget gaps. Many school districts that may have contingency funds are having to use those reserves now.

Like Akron Public Schools. Halfway through last year, the district’s homeless program ran out of bus money and had to dip into general funds to get homeless kids to class. Still Akron’s Debra Manteghi says there are days when there aren’t enough shelter beds and supplies to go around.

Manteghi: I had one call from a father and they had a student that was at higher middle school. And they were desperate. They were living in their car. And I felt very badly that I was not able to help them.

Homeless advocates are pushing a $30 million emergency assistance bill now before Congress. The funding, they say, would help school districts buy school supplies and hire staff to help families and students cope with homelessness.

I’m Mhari Saito, for Marketplace.

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