Homelessness is tough on the whole family, but kids are especially vulnerable. Children with an unstable housing situation are twice as likely to repeat a grade, four times as likely to develop asthma and other health issues, and are at a 52% higher risk for developmental delays.
This dramatic impact is not surprising — changing schools is disruptive to a child’s education, frequent moves isolate families from their support networks, and create an environment too unpredictable to focus on homework and extracurricular activities. Collectively, the impact of homelessness makes it highly likely that children will be caught perpetuating the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
A Whole-Family Approach to Ending Homelessness
To effectively serve the entire family, United Way fosters collaboration between schools and housing and other community organizations to better serve children experiencing homelessness. The goal is to make sure that their social, emotional, and educational needs are met while they work toward securing stable housing.
RISE was the beginning of United Way’s journey to create school and community partnerships, and officially began in 2014 in the City of Lynn, where each year nearly 1,200 children in public schools are identified as homeless.
RISE is a partnership between United Way, Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development and the Lynn Public School District. Rather than working with parents and children in silos, they work together with the family as a unit to find the best solutions for everyone. That way, everyone’s needs are considered as the family makes decisions about finding and maintaining stable housing, pursuing financial stability, ensuring families can support their children’s and overall wellbeing.
Then, in 2017, United Way joined the Family-Led Stability Pilot, a group of community leaders — both people and organizations — focused on creating a whole-family approach to ending homelessness in Boston. The Pilot, initially aimed at seven BPS schools serving 240 homeless students, prioritizes families for housing based on proximity to their children’s schools. This ensures they can support their kids while building economic mobility on their own.
How it works
RISE is for families experiencing housing instability with at least one child in public schools. There is “no wrong door” into the program, and schools actively engage in referring families for support sooner than if they found a program in the community on their own. When families find RISE, they make two important connections: a housing and economic mobility organization for parents and a connection to the school to help meet kids’ educational needs.
Results thus far are promising. Each year, about 40% families who work with RISE in Lynn are able to stabilize their housing and move beyond the cycle of housing emergencies that brought them to RISE in the first place. In an expansion to Boston, United Way’s lead partner Project Hope has been able to help 73% of the school families they have supported to find stable housing.
Mobilizing resources for school-community partnerships
School-community partnerships are powerful tools to identify families in need early so they can find the resources they need before major disruptions happen. They help prevent homelessness, reduce educational interruptions, and allow families to regroup. United Way powered collaborations like these ensure both schools and housing organizations can accomplish their missions: providing a great education and putting an end to homelessness.
United Way is indebted to the Siemer Institute, an early and continued partner in this work. With their support, United Way continues to mobilize resources to build these partnerships in Lynn and Boston and to replicate them in other communities.