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Expiring Eviction Ban May Worsen Plight of Homeless Children

In Connecticut, a survey found 69 percent of respondents with children not current on rental payments reported being likely to face eviction in the next two months, compared to 10 percent of respondents without children.

(TNS) — A state eviction moratorium expired last week that could add to the count of thousands of children and youth experiencing homelessness in Connecticut.

In the 2019-20 school year, the state Department of Education identified 4,859 students as homeless in its K-12 public schools, with caveats.

"The count is probably underreported," said Adam Yagaloff, an attorney from the Center for Children's Advocacy's Homeless Youth Advocacy Project. "Especially for minors, there's a concern that it could lead to more involvement with services like DCF ( Department of Children and Families), and sometimes minors are concerned it's going to cause more problems with the family."

Under federal law, school-aged children are considered homeless if they lack housing, or an adequate or permanent living space. That includes students who have to double up or share housing with friends or family due to eviction or poverty.

Transient students are often subject to trauma and lack basic needs like food, medical care, technology and school supplies. They tend to move schools frequently, which can take a toll on academics and school-based relationships. And even before the pandemic, advocates said they were concerned about children completing homework and studying for tests in non-conducive work environments.

Since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Connecticut limited evictions to scenarios that include falling behind on rent for at least six months or causing a "serious nuisance," such as physically harming another tenant or landlord or using the unit for sex work or illegal drug sales.

The data is experimental, but the most recent U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey found 69 percent of respondents with children not current on rental payments reported being likely to face eviction in the next two months, compared to 10 percent of respondents without children.

The state moratorium was extended several times throughout the pandemic, until it expired on Wednesday. A federal moratorium is expected to lapse at the end of this month.

In the state moratorium's absence, Gov. Ned Lamont has signed off on new protections for tenants, including free legal services for low-income renters on the brink of eviction and orders for landlords to tap into the $400 million in federal relief available in Connecticut to cover unpaid rent through at least the end of this month.
Many have applauded these measures, including the Center for Children's Advocacy.

"We think it's inevitable that the eviction ban was going to be lifted," said Yagaloff, who called the protections "reasonable."

But whether or not these measures go far enough, or extend renter protections for long enough, remains to be seen.

Hard to Track

The exact number of children impacted by homelessness can be hard to pin down.

Yagaloff said transient youth often leave the school system — only three-quarters of Connecticut's homeless student population graduated on time in 2019, the most recent non-pandemic year.

"We've seen over the last year and a half, young people have had to find work in order to support their families," he said. "They've had to put school on hold or attend school less frequently in order to get jobs."

While the average chronic absence rate was 20 percent this year, more than 57 percent of transient students were repeatedly missing from school, according to the most recent state data.

A Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness report estimated that 7,823 young people ages 13 through 24 were homeless or unstably housed. A disproportionate number of them identified as Black, Hispanic and/or LGBTQ+.

The count was conducted in January 2020 and predates the pandemic, which Hearst has reported could exacerbate an already "fragile" situation. In a statewide survey of youth experiencing homelessness or housing instability, all respondents reported a worsening of their situation since COVID-19, according to the Youth & Young Adult Taskforce of the Reaching Home Campaign.

And though schools cannot halt eviction proceedings, under the federal law they have resources to mitigate the impact on other facets of students' lives.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act removes residency requirements for school enrollment, requires that schools provide transportation and creates liaison positions for targeted support.

Schools can be a source of structure and predictability, even when home is not. They can also supply breakfast and lunch, and provide social-emotional supports. And education can be a path out of poverty and homelessness for students.

This year in Connecticut, 20 districts received $572,000 grants to address student homelessness, then an additional $55,000 mid-year. More funding is also on the way through the American Rescue Plan Homeless Children and Youth Funds, totaling $7.2 million over the next three years.

Laura Stefon, chief of staff in the state education department, said they have hosted webinars and town halls to address homelessness, and prioritized transient students in computer distribution.

Help at School

In Bridgeport, Dementred Young, director of the school district's social work services, said his team links students and families to community services and removes obstacles, such as transportation, that might be in their way.

Since spring 2020, they also provided students residing in homeless shelters and other temporary living situations technology to access remote learning.

Young said typically school-based staff are the first to know if a family is experiencing housing difficulties: "During the pandemic, the number of referrals has been less as a result," he said.

Other school districts in the area have made strides to provide more resources for transient students.

"We actually added additional support two years ago," said Superintendent Matthew Conway in Derby. "I pulled together both Shelton and Ansonia, and we wrote a grant that provided us with funding to support homeless students in any of our three districts."

Schools in Westport also offer extra help for students in temporary housing.

"We support these students and their families through our school-based services," said Michael Rizzo, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services, "with the understanding that schooling should be maintained as a consistent place for students experiencing housing instability."

He added that the district works with community-based resources such as the town's Human Services Department and Homes with Hope. During the pandemic, he collaborated with the former to provide internet access and food to families on weekends.

"We continue to work to engage all students and families in school, and understand that community and school-based partnerships are important in doing so," he said.

Likewise in West Haven, the district has additional supports in place for students and their families who become homeless.

"We understand that when a child's home life is disrupted for any reason, it is important to keep them coming to school and remaining in a familiar and safe environment amongst friends and adults they trust," said Superintendent Neil Cavallaro.

"We provide transportation to and from school, counseling services when necessary, and give them extra attention as needed," he said. "We've also made sure that these students are fed, and if necessary, provide them meals to take home."

The district also supplied many families, transient or otherwise, with Chromebooks, internet connection and various digital tools. They also hired additional social and outreach workers.

"When necessary, they will make home visits and work with families to get them back to school," said Cavallaro.

"I often thought or worried about children in those (unstable housing) situations," he said. "There is no better place for them than in school. Our teachers, administrators, and support staff did an amazing job of keeping track of students who chose to remain out of school, but we all are committed to getting them back."

(c)2021 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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