The police were called. There was violence. Parents went to jail. It was one of the worst days of her life. When all was said and done, she landed with a friend and needs to pay rent. “I have to quit school and get a job,” she said.
“I’ll pay your portion of the rent,” I told her. “Next? What else do you need to stay in school? What do you need a job for?”
“My phone, my parents can’t pay for my phone from jail. I need a phone.”
“What is it? What is the plan?”
“Boost Mobile, I have the $35 a month plan.”
“I can get those from Walmart. I will have one for you tomorrow and can give you one monthly until graduation. What else?”
“I don’t know,” she said stunned. She was in shock. The situation with her friend is so much better than where she was. There is no violence. She only has to take care of herself, not her parents anymore. It was so much better, but so much different.
“Groceries? Food?” I asked. She nodded yes, like she hadn’t even thought of it. I gave her a $50 food only gift certificate to one of our local markets. I told her we would work on getting her food assistance and until then I can give her more gift certificates. “Laundry?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “They have a laundry room in the basement of the apartments but it costs $4 for one load of laundry.” I gave her a laundry voucher from a local laundromat that gives them to me for free. They are good for 5 loads of laundry. We went into my storage closet and got shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, laundry soap, socks, underwear, some clothes, feminine hygiene, school supplies.
“This closet it yours whenever you need it,” I told her. “You can do this. I can help you get a job but only if you stay in school. I need you to work on getting caught up on your school work. Graduation is four months away. You can’t stop now. You can do this.” She was only a few days behind but I wanted her to re-engage in her school work.
She looked up at me with tears in her eyes. Her makeup was perfect. Her hair was polished. Her clothes were clean and fashionable. She looked so well put together. Some of those walking the halls with her might in fact be jealous of her. She looked down at the things we had put together for her.
“I can help with rent,” I said softly.
She looked overwhelmed. I took an overwhelmed kid and overwhelmed her with answers. “Just breathe,” I said. She took a deep breath. “Back to class, no quitting today,” I said.
She laughed, “really?” she asked.
“Really,” I said. “No quitting today.” I sent her back to class and she stayed all day and came back the next day and the next. She is on track to graduate in four months…with some assistance.
One side note: I have been in this job for 16 years. That is the reason I have put together the networks that made all this possible. The food cards, the laundry cards, the personal care items, finding a women’s group to buy feminine hygiene items for me because nobody wants to buy those, the donations that will pay for her part of the rent…..all of those things took years to accomplish. I can not overstate the important of the stability of the position of Homeless Education Liaison. It takes stability in this position to help create stability for our kids. We need to stay. No quitting today.
Beth McCullough is the McKinney-Vento homeless liaison for Adrian Public Schools in Adrian, MI. She has created many innovative initiatives for homeless children and youth in her community, including “Roadmap to Graduation,” one of the nation’s first Host Homes programs for unaccompanied homeless youth. In 2012, she was named a White House “Champion for Change.”
For the past seven years, Beth has written an essay a week about her experiences working with students experiencing homelessness. The essays comprise her “Sanity Project:” managing the stress of a homeless liaison’s job through detailed, astute observations, and sometimes uncomfortable reflections. We are honored that Beth has agreed to share her essays as part of our Guest Perspectives blog.