The word homeless evokes an image of an individual sitting against a building, or sleeping on a city sidewalk, but homelessness can hit much closer to home, particularly in a family with children.
"There are 219 registered homeless children within Alpena, Alcona and Montmorency counties" Vicki Denstaedt, homeless services advocate, said. "Roughly 60 of those children are in outlying districts."
Denstaedt works out of ACES Academy and helps to inform eligible candidates about a program set in motion by the McKinney-Vento Act, which allows for grant money through a federal program that is determined by each state. McKinney-Vento defines homeless children and youth as "individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate night time residence."
However, determining the extent in which a family fits this definition must be handled on a case-by-case basis, which is where the local homeless education liaison comes in. The liaison determines the eligibility of the family or youth, and makes sure children are enrolled in school.
"A lot of times people don't know about the program," Denstaedt said. "Everyone needs to know that we have resources to help in these situations."
Justin Gluesing is the local homeless liaison director for Alpena, Alcona, and Montmorency counties. He is also the principal at ACES Academy. Gluesing works closely with Denstaedt to ensure families in homeless situations are made aware of the available help offered throughout the community.
"We can help by smoothing out the rough edges," Gluesing said. "We try to remove some of the barriers a student faces while attending school, like purchasing lunch, extracurricular activity fees and providing hygiene products. To some, these things may not be considered a hardship, but they can make a big difference to struggling families."
Recently, the liaison purchased hygiene items to have readily available at area schools.
"This way, when a school has a need for shampoo, it's already there and can be distributed to those who need it right away," Denstaedt said. "They now have an immediate supply of basic things for the children."
The homeless liaison in the region handles the money distributed from the McKinney-Vento Act grants.
"We try to make our dollars go as far as they can," Gluesing said. "Assistance can be limited, but it can take the edge off for the children. We're the central hub for fielding questions and helping relay what's available."
According to the Michigan Department of Education, 37,532 homeless students were enrolled in Michigan schools in 2011-12. In the same school year, Michigan received a little over $40 per homeless student. The state is getting the same amount for the 2012-13 school year, but an expected increase in homeless children will reduce that amount by almost half, plus the funding cuts due to the sequester, which is set to take effect for the 2013-14 school year.
"Most students are pretty discrete," Denstaedt said. "We try to help make sure they can participate without feeling self conscious."
The liaison also serves as a link to other resources in the area that offer assistance to families in need.
"Most of the children considered homeless in our area are doubled up with other family members or friends, but we can refer those who need a place to stay to a shelter or home that can provide that type of assistance.," Dendtaedt said.
There are different guidelines for assistance, Gluesing said, adding they consider what they can offer families and what groups they should direct them for help.
"I knew of the need, but now I have to make determinations based on qualifications of families," he said. "I have a larger prospective of the need now, and I get to see the personal impact the program can have on a family."
Some area groups have been lending a helping hand to homeless children by providing food or donating to the homeless liaison to help purchase needed items. For example, the Feeding Kids Ministry helps serve elementary children who may not have adequate food over the weekend by providing them with a packet of easy to prepare food on Fridays. Those who are interested in helping with the growing number of homeless families in our area can contact their local shelter, or the homeless liaison for more information.
Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.