Being a Homeless Liaison

Being a Homeless Liaison
by Pamela Kinnaird

I came back to work for the 2013-2014 school year during the last week of August, to find an over-capacity warning from my email wizard and the blinking light on my phone indicating that I had an abundance of phone messages that needed my urgent attention.

When a family is in crisis, everything that affects them is urgent and anxiety-ridden and many times, painful as well.

My name is Pamela Kinnaird and I’m the Homeless Education Liaison for the Shoreline School District.  We are a relatively small school district, when compared to Seattle or Tacoma, but the needs of our growing homeless populations are the same; stable housing, food, medical and dental and mental health care, clothing, continuity in education and a kind voice on the other end of the telephone.

During the 2012-2013 school year, I set up several programs and resources to help our burgeoning homeless population and to bring more consistency in communication and collaboration between adjoining school districts.

  1. The Emergency Feeding Program of King County. I put bags of emergency food in each school with nurses or my McKinney-Vento Contacts for families in immediate crisis.
  2. Vouchers for necessary items, both new and used from a community grant funded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Homeless families can go shopping at Deseret Industries for clothing, new beds, new bedding, furniture, housewares and more.
  3. New shoes at each school for students in crisis, to supplement the emergency clothing that our nurses have on hand.
  4. A District-wide policy paper on what resources the Shoreline District has to assist students with class fees, iPad fees, ASB cards, sports fees/uniforms, tutoring, etc.
  5. I am a member of the CRT, Community Resource Team that meets monthly.  Our group consists of school personnel, Human Services organizations in the community, Shoreline City leaders and community and faith based organizations who all share their resources and collaborate to help the community.
  6. I initiated regular meetings between other Homeless Liaisons from surrounding districts so that we might share information, policies and create uniform transportation requests and have a more seamless process in getting our homeless students transported in the shortest amount of time in order to comply with the McKinney-Vento Act.

Each day as a Homeless Liaison brings unique challenges.  Last year we had a mom sleeping in her car with her two young sons and their hamster.  As a human being, as a mother and as a person who simply wants to help, the first reaction in my head is to say, “Oh, come sleep at my house, use my hot water and I’ll feed you!” Unfortunately, that is not something I am able to provide within the scope of my position—and if I did, where would it end?  I cannot provide for 300 families.

So I did what I could for this small family. I met mom in the parking lot of a grocery store with four bags of emergency food that could be eaten without benefit of a stove or an oven.  I encouraged her to make sure she was parking in a safe place at night and I gave her information on shelters, housing and other resources within the community.

Each family in a homeless crisis is different, each story is heartbreaking and I do my very best to be the calm at the center of their storm by giving them resources, options and a listening ear.

Each day when I come into work, my phone is lit up with messages and my inbox is full of email.  This work is as rewarding as it is heartbreaking, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.