Sharon Simpson, KIPP Texas Student Wellness & Homeless Education Coordinator, worked with the Moten family for more than six years. They were living in their car when Israel Moten began elementary school at KIPP Sharp Prep.
Israel’s father, Richard Moten was a veteran and suffered from PTSD. When she first met him he was extremely distrustful and rejected initial offers for help. But over the years Simpson developed a strong relationship with the family, and eventually Moten ended up asking for her help in navigating the bureaucracy at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA).
“He told me, I trust you. No one has ever done what you have done for my family,” she said.
Simpson worked with the VA on his behalf and was able to get the family an apartment rent-free. With stable housing his wife was able to get a part-time job.
By this time, Israel was in high school and with his family finally in a safe and secure environment, Israel was able to graduate from KIPP Houston High School in 2018 and is currently enrolled at Houston Community College.
“This is where I’m supposed to be. This is the work I’m supposed to be doing,” she said.
This is why KIPP Texas Public Schools recognizes Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week November 15-22, 2020.
The annual observance is held each year the week before Thanksgiving as a time to think about what we are thankful for, share our compassion with our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness, and work toward a world where no one has to experience hunger or homelessness.
KIPP Texas is educating more than 800 homeless students this year.
Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows an estimated 231,305 public school students in Texas experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year. Of those:
- 56,174 students were unsheltered, (living in streets, parks, alleys, parking ramps, parts of the highway system, all-night commercial establishments, campgrounds, vehicles, and other similar places)
- 19,797 were in shelters,
- 19,942 were in hotels/motels,
- 135,392 were living with family or friends
Simpson works with families in unstable living conditions. “People don’t think about the people that live in their car, but those people are homeless. Or the people that may stay with somebody for a month or two and then stay with somebody else for a month or two and then stay with somebody else, but they are homeless. We have families who are sleeping in park benches,” she said.
For students who experience homelessness, school is often the only constant in their otherwise highly mobile and unpredictable lives. Homelessness can be exceptionally harmful to families and children. Living in a shelter, on the street, or constantly moving can be unsanitary, unsafe, and chaotic. Children also commonly suffer extensive emotional harm, chronic absenteeism and can have damaging impacts on the learning and well-being of these students.
KIPP Texas school staff work to cultivate connections with students and foster feelings of safety and security to enhance academic and mental health outcomes. We take a holistic approach to help students and families by attending to their basic needs, developing a stable and supportive school environment, collaborating with other agencies and empowering families. School social workers and counselors address students’ needs and ensure students receive free breakfast, lunch, and supper, free uniforms, school supplies and transportation. In addition, all student fees including athletics are waived.
Simpson works to address families’ needs, providing guidance and access to critical resources. “If I got a mom that I called and I reached out to do an assessment. In doing that assessment, she might say I don’t have my high school diploma and am having a hard time finding a job. I’ll ask mom, would you be interested in maybe obtaining your GED? And if mom says yes, then I start looking for resources so mom can go for her GED,” said Simpson.
She also helps families find housing and has developed relationships with many community shelters. In addition to families, Simpson assists unaccompanied minors, who are not in the custody of a parent or any adult. Much of this work is with high school students who are in risk of dropping out.
“It’s rewarding. Recently I had two students that I helped who graduated and went to college. So we do have some good stories.”
KIPP Texas recognizes the importance of creating a caring, stable and inclusive culture where homeless children and their families feel safe and valued, especially in today’s challenging, chaotic, and sometimes unjust world.
KIPP Texas schools provide a safe and positive learning environment, where culture and diversity are respected and celebrated. Enroll today.