Monday, June 30, 2008

Monroe County NY Stats

Formatting problems prevent the stats from being viewable. Email me at and I'll send a pdf file with the complete report.


Monroe County NY School District Report Card


…giving voice and visibility to homeless kids...

June 30, 2008

Dear Monroe County Superintendents,

HEAR US is pleased to release the 2007-08 Monroe County School District Report Card indicating progress on identifying and serving homeless students in your county. As with most report cards, it is just a measurement that may or may not show need for improvement and it does not reflect your district’s attitude regarding homeless students.

Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, schools must identify children and youth in homeless situations and provide appropriate services. Realizing that it is sometimes difficult to identify homeless students, several resources exist to guide and assist your district. The New York State Education Department provides superb technical assistance and materials through NYS Technical Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students, TEACHS. A complete array of online resources is available at HEAR US has created a very useful and powerful tool: My Own Four Walls, a series of documentaries featuring students talking about their experiences of homelessness and education.

Now, onto the report card…

This report uses poverty statistics by district to gauge the potential number of homeless students in your area. Using a very conservative number, 10% of children/youth in poverty in your district who will likely experience homelessness, HEAR US examined the number of homeless students identified by your district. Factored in was improvement from 2005 to 2006 if your district increased its number of students identified.

Although each school district is required to have a trained homeless liaison to facilitate identification and enrollment of homeless students, the overall responsibility to respectfully identify and assist homeless students is best accomplished by a district-wide approach. Sensitivity is increased and enrollment delays eliminated if your entire staff understand the importance of this challenge.

Unfortunately, homelessness is on the increase as poverty grows and foreclosures soar. Making sure homeless students have access to education will yield positive results for the students, their families, and their communities.

Please consider this report card a baseline indicator of Monroe County’s school districts efforts to properly identify homeless students. It is a work in progress. I will be happy to provide assistance to your districts so you may better identify, enroll and serve homeless students.



Diane Nilan


Numbers on the enclosed report are indicators of how many students were identified as homeless in Monroe County. All districts have room for improvement. Compliance with the law (
Subtitle VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, reauthorized by Title X, Part C, of the No Child Left Behind Act) isn’t the only reason. Homeless students can thrive in a stable, safe learning environment.

Even districts that scored lower in identifying homeless students are not far from turning in a better performance indicator next year.

The less poverty a district has, the harder it is to identify homeless students. Why? Because families and teens who lose their housing due to hardship—economic, domestic violence, natural disaster, personal set-backs—tend to want to avoid attention. They often fear that being identified as “homeless” will involve child protection authorities. Besides, it’s embarrassing.

Those who have scored higher identifying homeless students have a few tricks of the trade:

· They know addresses of motels or shelters (although few areas outside Rochester have shelters).

· They have trained enrollment personnel to be sensitively alert to signs of homelessness at the time families enroll or as youth attempt to enroll on their own.

· They know the definition of homeless extends beyond the obvious of living in a shelter or on the streets.

· They have set up communication within the district so people know who to contact if they suspect a student might be homeless.

· They have publicized the rights of homeless students in places where homeless families and teens will see them.

· They continually work to de-stigmatize homelessness among staff and students.

· They know what local agencies assist families or teens in homeless situations and encourage two-way communication.

· They are alert to natural disasters that displace low-income families.

· They care.


While poverty certainly is a major factor in homelessness, it is not the only one. The leading cause of homelessness among families is domestic violence, something that affects all income levels and is an incident that tends to not be talked about by those involved. Homeless teens often become homeless because of abuse in the home—of all income levels.

If a district has any poverty, and all Monroe County districts do, then it is likely that AT LEAST 10% of those in poverty will experience homelessness: eviction or foreclosure causes them to move in with family/friends or into motels, moving often as the current arrangement falls apart; natural disaster, forces families with scant resources to turn to family/friends, or motels, once short-lived assistance from disaster agencies runs out; break-up of marriages or relationships forces people out of the family residence; income/credit problems; and/or safety issues, physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse which renders their living situation untenable.

For any district to report 0 homeless students is a red flag. Even affluent districts will have students who fit the definition of homeless. It takes some effort on the part of the district’s liaison and other school personnel to be alert to homelessness.

Districts that were ranked higher for their abilities did not just accidentally identify homeless students. They’ve worked to establish an environment that makes it easier. Kudos to them, but don’t rest! Homelessness is increasing.

If your district showed improvement from the ’05 to the ‘06 years, that’s a good sign. Keep trying. Sensitizing staff and working with your local community will yield even better results next year.


Feel free to contact HEAR US for more information about resources available to school districts and communities. Also, excellent resources are available through NYS TEACHS and the National Center for Homeless Education.

Thanks for your efforts on behalf of all homeless students.


Diane Nilan


Thursday, June 26, 2008


For Immediate Release

Contact Diane Nilan, 630-267-5424

HEAR US! Disc Us! Project Links Homeless Kids and Disc Golf

What do disc golf and homeless kids have in common? Both are often obscure, with only insiders knowing of their existence. HEAR US, a Naperville-based national nonprofit organization that gives voice and visibility to homeless children and youth, recently received a grant that will lift both disc golf and homeless kids out of obscurity.

The Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) awarded HEAR US a grant to promote this sport which involves throwing a Frisbee-like disc at a chain-link basket on a course resembling a golf course. The nationally-competitive grant will enable HEAR US to invite homeless kids to experience the sport that has hooked HEAR US founder Diane Nilan and her longtime friend and board member Sister Helen Jilek, a Benedictine Sister from Lisle.

Nilan describes “HEAR US! Disc Us!” as an effort “to call attention to the great game of disc golf with the goal of increasing participation in the sport.” She also intends “to raise awareness of the existence of homeless families and teens in communities, with hopes to ease the suffering of these kids by developing local support for initiatives to help them.” Over 1.5 million children and youth are homeless in this country.

HEAR US is planning a disc golf outing with the children staying at the Hope Haven shelter in DeKalb where Nilan sometimes parks her home-office recreational vehicle. After selling her Aurora home and possessions, Nilan bought the RV so she could film a documentary about non-urban homeless kids. She’s traveled over 60,000 miles and produced a documentary to put homeless kids on the radar screen of educators, politicians and the public. My Own Four Walls, the award-winning HEAR US documentary, is available through the HEAR US website,

Hope Haven is the only shelter in DeKalb County. They provide a full spectrum of services for homeless families and adults including emergency and transitional shelters which tend to run at capacity, often with 25 children there with their families. Executive Director Lesly Wicks enthusiastically welcomed the chance for HEAR US to introduce disc golf with the kids. “It’s a great game!” states Wicks, who was introduced to the game by Nilan. “And if it helps raise awareness of homeless kids it will be worth it.”

As Nilan commences travel around the country this fall she will line up other opportunities for homeless kids to participate with HEAR US, Disc Us! She raises awareness of homelessness by presenting to educators, colleges, and service providers across the country. HEAR US is currently working on a feature-length documentary on homeless families with Dr. Laura Vazquez, media professor at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

An exasperated Nilan points to a current battle in Congress to expand the definition of homeless to include families and teens not staying in shelters. “What many people don’t get, including Congress, is invisible homeless families struggling to survive often stay with other families or in motels because shelters can’t handle them,” Nilan reflects. Playing disc golf with homeless kids is her perfect anecdote to balance the insanity of this longstanding campaign.


Homelessness 101: New Children's Book Illustrates Disaster-Related Homelessness

Pat Van Doren, HEAR US board member and founder of "It's About the Children,"
was recently interviewed about her newest children's book, A Family of Five or Six.
Read the Naperville Sun story.

Monday, June 2, 2008

In time for HURRICANE SEASON--a children's book--with a twist

With the opening of hurricane season, a powerful children's book blows in, addressing the often-ignored issue of homelessness. A Family of Five or Six by Naperville (IL) author Pat Van Doren tells the story of Michael and his family--their house destroyed in a hurricane--and their experiences coping with homelessness.

Even before Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Pat had been working on this, her second children's book addressing homelessness. Her first, Where Can I Build My Volcano?, a self-published book that has sold over 6,000 copies since first released in 1998, has won national acclaim including the 2006 Outstanding Media award from NAEHCY, the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

The unusual twist to this book comes from Florida, a group of 5th and 6th graders at Carrollwood Day School in Tampa, and their "energizer bunny" teacher Mrs. Barbie Monty, who guides her students' learning process but lets them have at it. She had received a copy of Volcano and her kids wanted to convert it into a play for their major end-of-the-year performance. She contacted HEAR US, who gave her Pat's info, and a bond was formed.

Pat ended up getting more help than she initially asked for--as the kids provided illustrations for the inside of the book. They also shared their hurricane experiences so Pat would get the details right. They had a weekly conference call which meant the kids had to give up their lunch to participate. They met that requirement plus worked on deadline, providing artwork that tells this children's story with obvious input from children.

Pat's organization, It's About the Children, a part of HEAR US Inc., continues to use children's books and powerful photos of children in homeless situations to convey the realities of over 1.5 million homeless children and youth in America.

The books sell for $15 plus postage. Contact Pat at, 630/355-5859, to purchase books or for more information.

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