BOSTON — Tuesday, June 20, 2017 — Boston Public Schools (BPS) district and school leaders joined advocates and community partners today for the first-ever Youth Homelessness Prevention Forum with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The well attended event emphasized BPS’ focus on how the district prevents youth homelessness and supports approximately 3,000 students experiencing homelessness.
“It’s incredible to see so many people and organizations in the City of Boston working together to support students and families experiencing homelessness,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “Boston Public Schools is doing a great job working with these organizations to ensure students’ educations are not disrupted, while also connecting families with the support services they need and deserve."
Youth homelessness is a complex problem that requires organizations to work together to support youth at all stages. Liberty Mutual and the BPS Office of External Affairs developed this forum in partnership with community organizations such as Youth Harbors, Bridge Over Troubled Waters and Y2Y to connect school administrators directly with local organizations and young people who have experienced housing instability to understand what services they need most. These services are of particular importance to students who are about to age-out of the system – and are often left behind once they turn 18.
“Youth homelessness is a serious and growing epidemic in our community,” said Melissa MacDonnell, President of Liberty Mutual Foundation. “Without intervention, homeless students are 87 percent more likely to drop out of school. Keeping an unstably-housed young person on track and in school requires a coordinated and comprehensive response. By facilitating collaboration among all of these people who each represent a part of the social safety net, we can build a support system that ensures students do not become invisible and together we can help end the cycle of homelessness.”
The forum comes as BPS establishes the Opportunity Youth Department this school year to build capacity at individual schools to support youth experiencing homelessness, attendance issues, home tutoring, and other issues that require individualized attention. In addition, Mayor Walsh and BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang pledged $1.2 million in the fiscal 2018 budget to support students experiencing homelessness.
“We know that when we meet students’ individualized needs, they perform better in school and in their future careers,” said Boston School Committee Chairperson Michael O’Neill. “Providing personalized supports for our most marginalized populations go a long way toward closing opportunity and achievement gaps.”
In addition to providing required services for students who become homeless, such as transportation, BPS is helping its schools build capacity with a “hub-and-spoke model” in connecting families with a range of services through community partners if they are or at-risk of experiencing homelessness. Select staff members who currently work at schools will help with this effort by being designated as homelessness liaisons.
“In order for our students to perform well in school, their social-emotional needs must be met,” said Superintendent Chang. “BPS is committed to fostering our students’ skills and talents to ensure they are ready for college, career, and life.”
While speaking at the forum about the new model, Dr. Chang encouraged school leaders to work with the district on finding community partners that are located within geographic proximity of the school, share a culture and process that fits well with the school, and can help build capacity by strengthening existing school programs toward larger goals.