It’s no wonder that in Tacoma, Washington, educators noticed that homeless students were slipping behind. After all, these kids moved so many times, their learning was continually disrupted. So to combat this, the Tacoma Housing Authority collaborated with McCarver Elementary, the poorest school in the district, to provide families with housing vouchers that would stabilize them and allow their kids to study more continuously.
Fifty families experiencing bouts of homelessness signed up for the program, which began back in 2011. It gave them a 5-year housing voucher provided that they adhere to several rules — including making sure their kids showed up to class when the school bell rang. These families also receive assistance from caseworkers, who support them in obtaining education, certifications, and jobs. Each year, the level of support decreases by 20 percent, with the goal that by the end of the 5-year period, the family will become self-sufficient.
Tacoma’s approach seems to be working: Test scores and attendance have increased, and the families are moving around less. In 2006, McCarver Elementary’s turnover rate (the percentage of students moving in and out of the school) stood at a whopping 179 percent. It’s down to 75 percent now, with only 13 percent turnover for students enrolled in the voucher program.
According to the Seattle Times, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington is looking to extend this program beyond a single school district through the proposed Educational Success for Children and Youth Without Homes Act. Meanwhile, state senators and representatives in Washington state have supported the Homeless Children Education Act, which would provide resources to identify and serve students suffering from homelessness. Washington’s governor will soon consider it for signing.
For Mary Kamandala, a Sudenese refugee and mother of six, the housing program in Tacoma has been a life saver. “I’m from zero,” she told Ashley Stewart of the Seattle Times, “so it was a really bad situation when I came here. It was just me and them, and no one could help me.” With the help of Tacoma Housing Authority caseworkers, Kamandala earned a home-care certificate and found a job at the Korean Women’s Association, while the housing voucher provided her kids the stable home base they needed.