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More youth facing the crisis of homelessness

caines | 11/22/2012, 5 a.m.

Public school students rally to support friends and raise public awareness

Homelessness was once an issue that tended to impact adults many of whom were suffering from mental illnesses, alcohol or drug addictions. A smaller percentage of the homeless included veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. But in recent years, the face of homelessness has dramatically changed. Today we see two groups becoming homeless with disturbing frequency: Blacks and children. In an effort to address this community problem, Miami-Dade Countys Homeless Trust [M-DCHT] held its fourth annual Homeless Awareness Day last Thursday with a host of pep rallies, walks and strategy sessions. All of the events focused on the rising number of homeless youth who have the daunting task of trying to attend school but have no place to call home. We started the day with the Mayors forum where he spoke to local businesses to make them more aware of the problem of homelessness and how they can help, said Hilda Fernandez, executive director, M-DCHT. But the real exciting part of the day was engaging students from 18 different high schools, middle schools and elementary schools throughout the County. Some walked through their neighborhoods with signs that said, End Homelessness. Then we had over 1,000 high school students participate in pep rallies at the University of Miami and Florida Memorial University. The goal is to counter the myths about homelessness, expose the kids to those who were once homeless and to teach them more appropriate ways to treat their own peers that attend school each day and are homeless.

Over 5,000 homeless students need help

Project Upstart is one of several programs run by the Foundation for New Education Initiatives, Inc., under the auspices of the Division of Student Services. They provide services to homeless students, their families and unaccompanied minors. According to data for the 2011-2012 school year, Project Upstart identified and provided services to 5,711 homeless children and youth who attended M-DCP schools throughout the County. Where did they live? In shelters, motels, vehicles, campgrounds, trailers, abandoned buildings and on the streets. We try to keep students in the school of origin or the school that is in their best interest so that they have as much consistency as possible, said Deborah Montilla, district director for Student Services. The homeless assistance program is under my purview and I know firsthand how difficult it is for these youth to try to do their best in school every day while also being homeless. We have developed a curriculum that is taught to all students regardless of age so that our kids are more sensitive about the issue. This came about after the senseless death of Norris Gaynor a homeless man that three Broward County teens beat to death with a baseball bat in early 2006. The key to the lessons our children receive is that homelessness can happen to anyone and that even those who may be homeless deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Youth become advocates to end homeless