With a high rate of students in the city experiencing homelessness and unstable housing, the school district and Seattle Housing Authority have been developing a new partnership over the last several years to provide better coordination of services for children and their families.
“We have been talking with the schools for quite some time about what we call the intersection of housing,” said SHA spokesperson Kerry Coughlin, adding one in eight Seattle Public Schools students uses SHA housing.
The school district and SHA published their multiyear partnership plan last September.
“We have programs and we’re doing various data analysis projects and doing other things together,” Coughlin said.
With support from the city of Seattle, SHA and SPS announced the Home from School pilot program in mid-September, which offers assistance to families in need of stable housing and other services to avoid interruptions to students’ education.
Due to its proximity to SHA’s Yesler Terrace community, which is undergoing redevelopment, and the fact that 17 percent of its students are facing homelessness or unstable housing, Bailey Gatzert Elementary was tapped to be Home from School’s pilot school.
“We are already starting to talk to families,” Coughlin said, “and we’ve identified some that will be among the first (participants).”
The Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded SHA a Choice Neighborhood Grant in 2011, which has been used by the agency, in partnership with Seattle University and SPS, to create a regional collective impact initiative centered around Yesler Terrace.
Coughlin said that means looking at the greater neighborhood, including Bailey Gatzert, and what can be done to improve the school environment.
More than 80 percent of Bailey Gatzert students qualify for the Free and Reduced Priced Lunch program and, in the 2014-15 school year, the turnover rate was 31 percent.
“It’s very disruptive to the school overall,” Coughlin said, “not just the kids experiencing homelessness.”
She said the priority for the pilot will be finding stable housing for families and providing outreach support, such as case management.
“The interest is very high among these families,” Coughlin said, “and that’s been very much through the outreach worker at the school.”
SHA has a commitment to giving all Yesler Terrace residents displaced during the redevelopment the first right to return, Coughlin said, and the Home from School pilot won’t interfere with that.
She said SHA is still finalizing a service provider contract for further outreach, enrollment and pre- and post-move support.
In support of its new partnership with SHA, the school district has created a housing and education manager position, which belongs to Kathlyn Paananen, a former SHA staffer who had worked on the Yesler Terrace redevelopment project.
“It’s good to be over here on this side,” Paananen said, “but also knowing how SHA works.”
SHA students represent 10 percent or more of the student population in half of the district’s 97 schools, and are enrolled in 94 of those schools, according to data from the multiyear partnership plan. Twenty-five percent are English Language Learners and 17 percent are in Special Education.
Paananen said she is focused on three strategy areas. Dual generation strategies address how to help not only the students, but the parents, who would benefit from professional development or other job training, she said. This could occur in a school setting at the same time students are receiving something like STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Making the partnership work better will also require bold policy changes, Paananen said, which are still being developed. The third is data-driven strategies.
“It is looking at the whole child and their families needs,” she said of her position, “because if you don’t have your basic needs met, how are you able to focus on learning?”
For Home from School to work, Coughlin said landlords and property managers are being sought to work with SHA and SPS and keep them updated on vacancies that could be filled. Those interested in assisting can contact Cynthia Setel at email@example.com or 206-239-1616.