RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) —
According to the Virginia Department of Education 76,800 students are identified as economically disadvantaged in Central Virginia.
This past year, Richmond Public Schools reported having 1,475 homeless students.
Those students receive help from the division’s McKinney-Vento office.
McKinney-Vento is a federal term for identifying homeless youth, named after the McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth Assistance Act. The federal law ensures school enrollment and education stability for youth.
In Richmond they have found a way to make a bigger impact than just using federal funding, and it’s the creation of their resource room.
There students and families have access to immediate resources such as food, clothing and hygiene products.
Their goal: to make sure every student has the chance to succeed.
“We know that there’s a problem,” Britni Higginbotham said. “I’m normally the one that’s on the other end of the phone or the conversation stating that there’s a problem.”
Britini Higginbotham is the homeless education specialist for Richmond Public Schools and the woman in charge of the McKinney-Vento office, and its impressive resource room.
“All of this is donated,” Higginbotham said. “You have everything from bras and underwear to headbands for kids. You know, some really neat and cool things but also the essentials.”
Every day, families come in and out of their office.
In addition to the resource room, their office provides transportation support for out of zone students, housing solutions and other wrap around services.
She said the problem isn’t people asking for help, but people believing there is a need in this city
“People believe that you’re supposed to fit into this mold,” Higginbothamsaid. “And if you don’t, then you don’t deserve the help and that’s just not the case.”
Many times, there are no warning signs.
“Just because a student doesn’t look dirty or their clothes aren’t stained or have holes in them or their shoes doesn’t have holes in them doesn’t mean that they aren’t in need, in dire need,” Higginbotham said.
The McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness includes those families who are doubled up in homes, living in motels or living in trailer parks and inhabitable spaces.
It’s that uncertainty at home that can impact the student in the classroom.
“The bell rings you don’t know where you’re going,” Higginbotham said. “You don’t know who’s picking you up. You don’t know how you’re getting wherever you’re going to be that night”
Higginbotham said even with the odds stacked against them, the majority of these students continue on to the next grade level.
“They do succeed,” Higginbotham said. “They’re resilient. They know who they can count on and who they can’t.”
She said eventually students learn there are people who can help and who will keep helping even after they graduate and leave the school system.