Partnerships working full-time to address needs of Broken Arrow's homeless students
By Brittany Harlow, Contributing Writer
A woman pushing a full shopping cart of belongings down Elm Street. A man with no shoes hefting an overstuffed backpack.
With signs of homelessness in Broken Arrow growing by the day, there is one sign that’s a little less obvious to the untrained eye: child homelessness. But it’s one Broken Arrow Public Schools (BAPS) is on the lookout for and working with community partners to remedy.
“Last year, our institution recorded a total of 461 students experiencing homelessness,” said Jean Brassfield, BAPS’ executive director of federal programs and assessment. “Which has since risen to 623 students.”
A pressing need
Brassfield said the increase can be attributed to two key factors: improved accuracy in identifying homeless students, due to ongoing efforts, and more families who can’t afford housing due to escalating costs.
“These findings emphasize the pressing need for continued support and resources to address the challenges faced by our homeless student population,” Brassfield said.
During the most recent Board of Education meeting, board members renewed the district’s $13,000 contract with Daybreak Family Services. The outpatient program provides services to children, teens, and families in need. For BAPS, contracted Daybreak services include interns to help with caseload management of the district’s influx of homeless students.
The contract also helps the district meet certain grant requirements.
Brassfield said the district currently receives Title I funds, the ARP ESSER III Homeless 1 Grant and the ARP ESSER III Homeless 2 Grant to offer homeless students support.
A McKinney Vento student refers to a student who experiences homelessness, as defined by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, Brassfield said. She adds the district is committed to providing support for those students to help them achieve educational success and overall well-being.
Those resources include Food For Kids, free and reduced lunch, school supplies, clothing, hygiene products, school requirement waivers, academic waivers, social support waivers, and assistance with other community service benefits like SNAP applications.
Brassfield said holistic support is extended to the families of homeless students to address their needs.
“Transportation services are provided to ensure they can attend school regularly,” Brassfield said. “We also offer support in obtaining vital documentation, including birth certificates, which can be crucial for accessing various services.”
BAPS established the McKinney Vento Advisory Council, which meets four times a year, to discuss and explore various ways of addressing the needs of BAPS families effectively.
‘Our work is not done’
BAPS isn’t the only local entity taking notice of the uptick in Broken Arrow homelessness. Last year the Church of St. Benedict organized a resource fair and panel to address homelessness in the Broken Arrow community. Over 30 partner organizations showed up.
The issue of Oklahoma homelessness received a spike in attention back in April following Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s decision to dissolve the Interagency Council on Homelessness.
Greg Shinn, past chairman of the agency, released a statement on behalf of Mental Health Association Oklahoma, calling Stitt’s move a step backward in collaborative efforts to prevent and end homelessness.
“Homelessness among the longest-term and disabled population is up 115% in the last 8 years in Oklahoma,” Shinn said. “At the same time, unsheltered homelessness is up 62% across the state. Again, this means our work is not done and we have a long way to go.
“Homelessness is a visible problem and it's impacting hospitals, emergency rooms, law enforcement and quality of life in Oklahoma.”
Those looking to make a positive impact on BAPS students impacted by homelessness can do so by donating resources, time, and expertise through Engage BA.
Community members can generously donate non-perishable food items to ensure that these students have access to adequate nutrition, Brassfield said. Additionally, donations of gently used clothing can help provide students with appropriate attire -- enhancing their comfort and self-esteem. Another practical form of assistance is the provision of gas cards.”
The community’s role
Brassfield encouraged community members to also play an active role in identifying families in need.
“If individuals observe parents with children soliciting money on the side of the road, it would be immensely helpful for them to promptly notify the school or appropriate authorities,” Brassfield said. “Such information allows us to make timely contact with these families and offer necessary support and resources.”
People interested in establishing partnerships with BAPS and their work family to further resources and services for these students should contact Valeri Radford, BAPS homeless parent liaison, or Brassfield directly. Training and background checks are required.
“By actively engaging with Broken Arrow Public Schools and the McKinney Vento program, the community can make a significant and lasting impact on the lives of students experiencing homelessness,” Brassfield said.
“Through donations, vigilance, awareness, collaboration, and volunteering, we can create a compassionate and supportive community that prioritizes the well-being and success of these vulnerable students.”