A Providence teacher is helping a student experiencing homelessness and shedding light on the reality thousands of students have faced long before the pandemic began.
A senior English teacher at Jorge Alvarez High School, Matthew Farrell has watched students' lives drastically change academically, socially, mentally and financially.
Farrell spent much of the pandemic helping a student over Zoom from 6 to 8 p.m.
"He can't be in person because he has his family relying on him to work and provide for his family, which is a lot for a 17, 18-year-old," he said.
At one point, the student stopped meeting. He told Farrell he was laid off from his job and his family was evicted from their apartment.
With help from his social worker, the teenager's family had to move from hotel to hotel and remains in one today.
"It seemed the situation would get worse and worse," Farrell said.
Farrell created a GoFundMe page in April with the goal of raising money to help the student find shelter for his family and afford necessities. Donors have contributed more than $4,300 so far. The page has a goal of $10,000.
"He's not the only one," Farrell said. "I wish I could do it for a lot of other students."
Rhode Island school personnel identified 1,531 students experiencing homelessness during the 2019-2020 school year.
Providence schools has helped 153 students total from 63 families across elementary, middle and high schools this school year.
"We have seen a rise in families experiencing homelessness during the pandemic," said Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Deputy Director Stephanie Geller. "This includes children who are in shelters, living in hotels and motels, and unfortunately, some children living in unsheltered settings, like cars and campgrounds."
Geller noted the U.S. Department of Education has a broader definition of homeless.
"Children who are doubled up; sleeping on the floor of a neighbor or family member's home," Geller said.
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According to Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, Providence Public Schools identified close to 300 students as homeless during the 2018-2019 school year.
Providence Public Schools received $40,000 through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Education Act. Seven other Rhode Island districts received sub-grants, totaling $304,000. The law ensures rights and protections of students who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.
"We have a grant partnering with Crossroads providing families direct services with the Housing Stabilization Case Manager who works directly with families within the Providence Public School System who are housing insecure or are experiencing homelessness," Director of External Communications Audrey Lucas noted.
The HSCM's primary role is to provide "short-term, solution-focused crisis intervention," Lucas said.
The district's Family and Community Engagement Office can answer questions about enrolling in school, connecting with transportation and other services. The office can be reached at 401-456-0686.
Every school district has a homeless education liaison.
While Farrell is grateful for the donations, he hopes long-term action is taken.
"I'm a big proponent of working in systems. In Rhode Island, everything's a cog in a machine. We can't just have school funding without funding the community," Farrell said. "I have students telling me all the time 'we go home, we still have problems in our neighborhoods.' There's still litter everywhere. There's still poverty. You can't just ignore that and put money in schools and think that's the solution. You have to put money into the community itself."
The latest KIDS COUNT Factbook, which will dive deep into the impact of COVID-19 on youth, will be released Monday, May 10.