Nicole Lee-Mwandha oversees homeless programs for D.C’s public school system. She says every year the numbers of homeless children increase. Since the 2009-10 school year, it has jumped by 60 percent.
“DCPS is about five percent [homeless], but in my heart I strongly believe students go unidentified because of the shame and stigma surrounding homelessness,” she says.
Lee-Mwandha is getting more buy-in from school staff and has begun holding training workshops for them at shelters.
“Instead of a training in a nice cushy air-conditioned room, I do training in D.C. General and really see where their homeless children are coming from,” she says.
Lee-Mwandah says there’s a sense of urgency to help these homeless children. Stanton Elementary packs food for its approximately 70 homeless children to take home for the weekend. Roosevelt S.T.A.Y., with more than 100 homeless students, has a relationship with a bakery so families get fresh bread. She says some schools’ homeless liaisons even provide turkeys for homeless families on Thanksgiving, but, she says, it’s still not enough.
“And that’s the hard part when they need to select how many families out of the abundance of families they can help. We’re doing the best we can with the resources we have, it’s still very limited,” she says.
For school staff on the front lines, the fear is the issues these children deal with are much bigger than what can be addressed during the hours they’re at school.