Right on the Money: Working with Local Homeless Education Liaisons to Raise More Money for Homeless Students

Photograph of a pair of sneakers.

“In this economy, what’s a better investment? Kids or the stock market?” Alison Draheim asks a group of people gathered at a community event.

She’s trying to raise money for the over 800 students in the Green Bay Area Public School District who are homeless. As Family, Community and Homeless Resources Coordinator, Draheim helps enroll homeless students in school and provides backpacks with school supplies, but she realized several years ago there were still a lot of basic needs going unmet.

“There were so many things not covered by McKinney-Vento or the school district budget,” she says, referring to the legislation that mandates support and services to homeless youth. “Some kids didn’t have shoes for gym class or laundry detergent to wash their clothes.”

Draheim contacted community foundations but the small grants she received weren’t going far enough. “The problem,” she says, “is that community foundations usually want a program with measurable outcomes. I didn’t have a program. I just needed to buy kids sneakers.”

So Draheim went directly to the people she thought could help. She spoke at local organizations’ meetings and community events, educating folks about the needs of homeless students. She found that people really wanted to know what was going on in the community. And they wanted to help. At one meeting, someone handed her a check for $300. Then came a check for $6,000.

Since then, Draheim has advised other local homeless education liaisons—responsible for coordinating McKinney-Vento services and supports for homeless students in their school district—about starting a private donation fund. To foster collaboration and increase the impact, consider teaming up with your local McKinney-Vento liaison to raise money and champion homeless youth in your area. Here’s what you can do:

Help educate your community. Youth workers know better than anyone what life is like for young people who are homeless. Collaborate on efforts to educate community leaders, politicians, neighbors, and school personnel about homelessness in your area. “Some people still have stereotypes about homeless people. We have to educate them about how families become homeless and what it means for kids day-to-day,” Draheim says. You can also train young people in your program to help make these presentations. (For more on youth advocacy, please listen to our latest podcast, Shared Experiences Help Rural Youth Leaders Connect.)

Help target resources. Let local homeless education liaisons know what kinds of things homeless young people need and what kinds of things typically get donated, so you don’t duplicate efforts. For example, Green Bay has a community coat drive that happens around Thanksgiving every year, so the private donation fund wouldn’t buy coats. And school supplies are usually donated as well, Draheim says, so she doesn’t purchase those items either.

Help acknowledge donors. Draheim says it’s imperative to follow up and thank people who have given anything to help. People like to know what their money contributed to or what a student or parent said about the help they received. Youth workers can help by passing on positive comments from young people or their own observations about how particular donations have helped. Local liaisons can use these remarks in an annual report or even, Draheim says, in follow-up calls to say “thanks!”

To collaborate with your local homeless education liaisons, contact your local school district, or get in touch with your State Coordinator for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

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