A poll: who is better at promoting homelessness?
Take a real problem, unpleasant but not that hard to solve. Then take a bunch of professional activists who are out of a real job and make their living by exploiting the problem. Then take a bunch of officials who have money that needs to be wasted. Then take private interests who are eager to meet that need and want to make sure that the problem, the officials, and the public funds are still in place tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that. Mix it all together, spruce it up with a little financing, and you'll get the situation with homeless students in Chicago.
First, officials draw up a spending plan. The essence of the plan or its target audience does not matter. The only necessary condition is that the plan must a) cost the public a king's ransom of money, and b) help the smallest number of people who are actually in need. The result of such planning is predictable:
"The cost of housing students deterred a similar effort in Chicago in the 1990s and remains a problem this time around as well. The school system spends about $7,350 per student each year on pupils in grades 6 through 12; residential schools can cost between $30,000 and $50,000 per pupil, according to school officials."
In other words, school officials in Chicago are ready to provide housing to homeless students if you give them between $22,650 and $42,650 per student per year. Not bad at all. For $42,650 a year I could rent every homeless student a luxury apartment in Manhattan. Or else I could just buy the homeless student a McMansion and spread the costs over 12 years of attendance.
The secong interest group I mentioned, the private contractors who will stand between the school system and the needy students and provide living accomodations for $42,650 a year, is not explicitly present in the article, but I think I can definitely smell their presence behind the scenes. When your cousin gets to design, and your brother in law gets to build the dormitory, I assure you that $42,650 will seem to you a very reasonable amount.
And finally, the arrangement would be incomplete without community activists. What can be more frustrating than seing the raison d'etre of your non-profit organization (as we all know, nothing can be more profitable than a non-profit) disappear as the homeless begin to move into homes? You need to put a stop to this dangerous development, lest officials take your homeless away from you.
"What's more, homeless advocates say they fear students would be stigmatized or isolated, and worry about separating children from their families. "Kids are deeply connected to their families, and while there is bad in some situations, there's also a lot of connectedness and good," said Rene Heybach, director of the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. "You have to be really cautious when you begin these public enterprises that have the potential to drive a wedge."
So let me get this straight: when your homeless begin high school in a shelter, doing homework on the floor of the bathroom, you are not worried about them being stigmatized and isolated. But now that school officials are taking your dairy cows away from you, you start worrying about them losing the sense of connectedness? You're afraid to drive a wedge by removing your homeless customer base from the floor of the bathroom? Yeah, that rings true. To be sure, officials have made your task much easier, as you can always criticize their plans by citing wasteful spending, which is 100% true: God knows that these plans are full of wasteful spending. The point is, you're going to propose an alternative solution to make this spending even more wasteful:
"Heybach also questioned spending upward of $30,000 per pupil to house a small number of students instead of, for example, using the money for transportation that could help many more homeless children."
Sure, when you're homeless, what is the thing that you need most? Correct, transportation. When crooked school officials bungle a program to provide cheap dormitories, making a dorm room cost like a 5-star hotel, what is the thing that is wrong with this program? That too much money gets syphoned off in the process? No, what's wrong is that they build housing as opposed to not building housing. Let's put our students back on the bathroom floor, but provide them with school buses.
How about a little referendum? Which side does more to promote homelesness: Chicago Coalition for the Homeless or Chicago public school officials?
HICAGO - She began high school in a shelter, doing homework on the floor of the bathroom. It was the only place with lights after 9 p.m. Her senior year was spent raising her little brother when her mother disappeared on cocaine binges.
"The more it went on, the worse I felt," said the 18-year-old, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because she didn't want her classmates to know her family's troubled history.
"I'd come to school and be like, 'I don't know why I'm here," she said. "Then I'd be home and I'd be like, 'I really don't want to be here either.'"
Many public school students with similarly chaotic personal lives could soon benefit from an approach that's more often reserved for the well-to-do: boarding school.
Chicago school officials are asking for proposals to run such schools. They admit the idea poses big challenges, not the least of which is the high cost and opposition from some homeless advocates.
"The idea of having a stable home situation is ideal. If that's not the case, that shouldn't preclude you from being able to focus in school," said Josh Edelman, head of the office of new schools in the nation's third-largest school system.
The student who requested anonymity will graduate next month and plans to attend college. She said the city's plan would help some students get "out of a situation that's hurting them," but that others would be better off with their families.
"In situations where things are hard, their parents may be the thing that helps them keep it together," she said.
Residential public schools are usually academies that specialize in math and science, although there are several that aim to help children from low-income neighborhoods succeed.
Chicago serves about 10,000 homeless students a year. Nationwide, more than 907,000 students were homeless in 2005-06, according to government statistics believed elevated during that period by young victims of hurricanes Rita and Katrina.
The cost of housing students deterred a similar effort in Chicago in the 1990s and remains a problem this time around as well. The school system spends about $7,350 per student each year on pupils in grades 6 through 12; residential schools can cost between $30,000 and $50,000 per pupil, according to school officials.
What's more, homeless advocates say they fear students would be stigmatized or isolated, and worry about separating children from their families.
"Kids are deeply connected to their families, and while there is bad in some situations, there's also a lot of connectedness and good," said Rene Heybach, director of the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. "You have to be really cautious when you begin these public enterprises that have the potential to drive a wedge."
Heybach also questioned spending upward of $30,000 per pupil to house a small number of students instead of, for example, using the money for transportation that could help many more homeless children.
She echoed a concern she said she's heard from others: "The Chicago Public Schools has a lot of trouble just operating quality schools. Now they're launching into housing?"
Edelman said participation would be voluntary. The idea, he said, is part of a broader plan to improve schools and offer options in neighborhoods across the city through charter, contract and performance schools that are free from many district controls.
Officials said the soonest a boarding school could open would be 2010, but a residential program tied to an existing school could be operating next year.
A charter school called North Lawndale College Prep is considering partnering with a nonprofit group called Teen Living, which has worked with homeless youth for about 25 years.
North Lawndale, in a neighborhood where the unemployment rate is almost triple the city average, would focus on academics and Teen Living would provide shelter and support services.
While the shelter would likely only have about 20 beds, some students might only stay a few days or weeks, so many students could benefit in a school year, said John Horan, the school's director of expansion. The school estimates 5 to 8 percent of its 525 students are homeless at any one time during the school year.
One former North Lawndale student who would have taken advantage of a boarding option is Tinesheia Howard. Now a 19-year-old college student, she spent 18 months in a homeless shelter during high school, and Horan often gave her rides to school.
Howard remembers how she couldn't start her homework until the clamor of the shelter died down with the "lights out" call at 9 p.m. She washed her clothes in a sink and failed an algebra class because she was so tired she would fall asleep at her desk.
"I think it's a great idea," Howard said of the boarding school idea. "You could be in a positive atmosphere. I was in a negative atmosphere — there was so much arguing. I just couldn't deal with it."