NORTH KINGSTOWN — A study by a nonprofit children’s advocacy organization shows that the North Kingstown School Department has a high number of homeless students, but a population decrease will be reflected in next year’s statistics, now that the Kingstown Crossings affordable housing complex is considered a permanent residence.
In April, Kids Count released its 19th annual factbook, a document that studies local, state and federal data to provide a snapshot of Rhode Island’s children based on 68 indicators, including housing, graduation rates and violence.
The 2013 release identified 154 of the 4,364 children enrolled in the North Kingstown public school system as homeless during the 2011-2012 school year – the third most in the state during that time. Homelessness is defined in the factbook as children who stay at homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters or transitional housing facilities with their families; it does not include runaway youths.
North Kingstown is one of five municipalities – along with Middletown, Warwick, Woonsocket and Newport – that receives federal grants administered through the Rhode Island Department of Education to provide resources for its homeless student population.
“We know that students who are homeless are at high risk for school failure because of increased absences [and] instability possibly moving from district to district,” said Barbara Sweeney, the co-director of the North Kingstown School Department’s Office of Family Learning. Her office is charged with providing homeless students resources, such as transportation and access to social services, and to help them remain engaged in academics, even when they face instability outside of school.
The federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act mandates that school districts allow homeless students to remain in their “home schools,” even if they move into transitional housing out of the district.
“If they move out of district…we work within our school district and transportation department to arrange transportation, coordinated with the district where the student is temporarily staying,” Sweeney said. North Kingstown typically tries to provide transportation one way, while the district where the student currently lives provides transportation the other way.
Next year, the number of students identified as homeless is expected to drop from 154 to approximately 48, Sweeney estimated, because the Kingstown Crossings housing complex, located on Navy Drive, will now be recognized as permanent housing.
“Students living there were considered homeless even though they had a roof over their heads. So they weren’t homeless in the classic way we think of homeless,” she said. “Once the families signed leases, it is no longer considered temporary, and the homeless population has subsequently dropped.”
Even with the decrease, Sweeney noted the number of homeless students is still “kind of high,” and said a possible explanation is that families are wary of leaving town in the face of financial struggles. Instead of disrupting their children’s education, some families opt to move in with friends or relatives in the area.