St. Paul offers rent assistance to keep at-risk kids in school

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Applications have been steadily flowing in for the Families First Housing Pilot, a collaboration between St. Paul Public Schools and the City of St. Paul that was recently introduced into seven St. Paul Public Schools last month. The initiative will provide a $300 monthly rent supplement to qualifying families with children who desperately need the assistance, with other ongoing housing support services for up to three years.

“Safe, stable housing for every child in our community is vital,” said St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter. “Our Families First Housing Pilot provides critical resources to realize this vision, so families and their children can thrive.”

The participating schools were chosen largely in neighborhoods identified as areas with the highest need and the least resources. Postcards were sent out to parents informing them of the program; informative posters hang in the hallways of the schools as well. Teachers and school staff may recommend a family, or parents can simply apply.

Anne McInerney is the McKinney-Vento liaison for Saint Paul Public Schools and helps facilitate the Families First process. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is the federal program in place to assist with the education of youth and children who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“We work at identifying students, setting up transportation so that students can stay in their school of origin to maintain stability,” McInerney said. “We provide resources like food or winter coats and refer them to community resources as needed, [such as] medical or dental.”

For the Families First program, broaching the topic of potential homelessness with a child or parent can be a difficult topic.

“If they say something like, ‘I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night because I was staying on the floor of a place or it was really crowded,’ then I might ask them questions about who are you staying with or are you doubled up,” McInerney added. “It’s about trust, it’s about relationships, it’s about follow-through.”

She said that when basic needs are not being met, such as having enough food at home or simple access to a washing machine for clean clothes, the instability is visible in many ways. As attendance rates fall, so does proficiency in subjects across the board, and ultimately graduation rates.

“Some people have said that maybe $300 is not a lot, but I really look at it as freeing up $300 a month so that families can take care of other things like food, like medical expenses, transportation and clothing,” McInerney said. “It at least gives them a bit more wiggle room to take care of the other needs.”

The $3 million program is funded by the Saint Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority’s Housing Trust Fund and will assist up to 250 families for up to three years. Additional funding is provided by the Family Housing Fund, McKnight Foundation, Pohlad Foundation, and Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations.

Families are eligible if they have at least one pre-K to third-grade student enrolled in a participating Saint Paul Public School. They must also have an income at or below 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI), which is a household income of $30,000 for a family of four. They cannot already be receiving another housing subsidy and must be paying 40% or more of their income for rent.

Participating schools include: Benjamin E. Mays IB World School, Jackson Elementary School, Maxfield Elementary School, Dayton’s Bluff Achievement Plus Elementary, John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary, Saint Paul City School, and Saint Paul Music Academy.

“Keeping students in their homes and their schools is vital for their future success,” said Dr. Joe Gothard, Saint Paul Public Schools superintendent. “I am pleased the City of Saint Paul heard the needs in our schools and was a willing and able partner to respond to those needs.”

About Analise Pruni

Analise Pruni is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder. She welcomes reader responses to apruni@spokesman-recorder.com.

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