With more than 37,000 K-12 public school students experiencing homelessness in Washington State, homeless student liaisons play an essential role in ensuring that these students are identified, and they and their families get connected to services. Because needs are diverse and resources are limited, liaisons across the state are developing creative strategies to support the students and families they serve. We interviewed our partners on the Shelton School District’s McKinney-Vento team to learn more about the innovative ways they’re supporting the students and families experiencing homelessness in their community.
Can you tell us a little bit about Shelton School District and the students and families you serve?
Amanda Gonzales, McKinney-Vento & Foster Liaison: Shelton is a rural district. We currently have 4,593 students enrolled, and 6.7% are considered McKinney-Vento students—students experiencing or who are at-risk-of experiencing homelessness.
What creative strategies are you using to meet the needs of your students and families?
Lisa Markussen, Director of Student Wellness: One innovative way our district and community is meeting those needs is through our Interconnected Systems Framework team. This group includes district staff and community providers of mental and behavioral health supports. Our focus with this team is coordinating an equitable approach to accessing these resources that promotes wellness for the whole child. This is especially critical for those who are at risk, like those experiencing homelessness. Often, access to certain outside help can be dependent on what school you go to, or who your school counselor knows. We know that many students who are experiencing homelessness need mental health support, so the Interconnected Systems Framework helps to make sure all students have access to it.
Collaborations between schools and community partners are vital to meeting the needs of students and families experiencing homelessness in our state. What community partnerships have been helpful in your work?
Amanda Gonzales: We have partnerships with the two shelters in Mason County, Crossroads and Turning Point. We collaborate with them often to touch base on all the families that are living in the shelter, which helps us identify students to make sure no one is falling through the cracks.
Darren Marshall, McKinney-Vento Liaison: Also, our school family liaisons work closely with our team and the Student Family Resource Center, which offers a food bank, hygiene bank—furniture, even. We help out with clothing and shoe drives for the resource center, so it’s a helpful partnership and a good resource for our students.
Lisa Markussen: They’ll often have a presence at our community events, as well as in the schools for family engagement meetings, so families are familiar and know who they can turn to for support. That’s been really helpful.
What resources are still needed in your district?
Krystal Moore, State and Federal Program Specialist: A barrier we often face when trying to provide support is restricted funding. Because of federal grant stipulations, it can be difficult to give my team access to funds so they can get the kids or families what they need. Flexible funding allows us to pay for essential things like food or utilities—even housing application fees that our larger federal grants don’t cover.
We had a family that had their electricity shut off because they were behind on the bill, and our only option was to put them up in a hotel for the weekend, even though it was less expensive to just pay their bill.
Amanda Gonzales: These barriers don’t make sense because we all have the same goal. And that’s to get families housed. We’re grateful for the flexible funding we’ve received from community organizations like Building Changes and hope there is more funding like this in the future.
What is working well in your district?
Amanda Gonzales: A highlight is that we were able to purchase a van to use for McKinney-Vento services. We’re excited we now have the ability to move things like furniture donations, transport kids to school, or pick kids up in case of an emergency.
Darren Marshall: Our district’s strength is in our communication. Our counselors, coaches, and teachers do a great job of coming to me when a student might need extra support. We’ve identified more students already this year than in past years, so that’s been successful.
Thank you to Krystal Moore, Lisa Markussen, Amanda Gonzales, and Darren Marshall. To learn more about the Shelton School District, and how you can get involved, visit www.sheltonschools.org/