Among the many wonderful things about Vancouver is the way that the community works together to take care of people. Public schools are part of a constellation of public and private organizations, businesses and groups that collectively support those who are vulnerable. One of the stars of this work is the Council for the Homeless, a nonprofit works tirelessly in the community to prevent and end homelessness. In the last school year alone, their work served 1,500 VPS children and their families. Vancouver Public Schools has partnered with Council for the Homeless for nearly a decade and is grateful for their work, as well as inspired by their vision.
For the Council for the Homeless’ work, Executive Director Kate Budd received the Washington Association of School Administrators’ 2021 Community Leadership Award for the Columbia River region.
Recently, Budd joined VPS Homeless and Foster Care Liaison Melissa Newhouse and Executive Director of School Support Services Tamara Shoup to answer a few questions about how this partnership benefits VPS families.
VPS: Kate, some people may not be familiar with the many ways that Council for the Homeless supports students and families. Would you please give us an overview?
Kate Budd: Absolutely, and thank you so much for having me. I’m so appreciative of the award as well. The Council for the Homeless is a local nonprofit agency that focuses on preventing and ending homelessness throughout Clark County. We do that through three focus areas which include leadership. We are the coordinating body around homelessness here in Clark County. That means that we support the primary funders of different homeless programs like the city of Vancouver and Clark County, as well as federal governments and the state with policy work planning, working to increase equity among the many programs that we have in the community and working to make sure that it’s addressed in a collaborative manner across our community. We also provide advocacy at all levels of government. We’re focusing right now on increasing tenant rights and reducing barriers to housing, especially now that the state legislative session is happening. Then we also provide many different types of direct services through our solutions focus. We run the housing Solution Center, which is the coordinated entry and access here in Clark County. What that means is anyone who is in need of emergency shelter, longer-term housing programs or just general affordable housing can give us a call, or check out our website and can learn how to be connected with available opportunities, as well as to learn more about the eligibility process. We have culturally specific programs for BIPOC communities as well as the LGBTQ community. We have veterans’ programs, programs for seniors, as well as our wonderful school programs.
Thank you for sharing a bit of the background scope of work. You’re busy. We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of students and families of Vancouver Public Schools that experience homelessness during the course of a school year. Certainly that’s been amplified by the pandemic.
Melissa, could you talk a little bit about the increase in the number of VPS students in recent years and how the pandemic has affected the scope of your work?
Melissa Newhouse: Our numbers in the past few years have increased dramatically. A lot of this has been due to the lack of affordable housing in our community. What we’re seeing in our homeless population, in our transitional students, is that we’re not able to find them right now. Without the community partnerships that we have in place already from the schools to places like Council for the Homeless, we would not be able to find these families. We have to work together. It takes a village to get these students identified, and it’s taking a lot of outside sources to find these students. Council for the Homeless is one of our huge assets in doing this.
Tamara, please talk a little bit about our partnership with Council for the Homeless. How does that fit into the district’s strategic work around community schools?
Tamara Shoup: Our community schools initiative is really about recognizing and alleviating the barriers that kids face when they’re coming to school. Everything from homelessness to food insecurity, the need for clothing. We try and rally around with our community partners to address those barriers. Housing is critical to that. If we expect kids to come to school every day ready to learn, they really need to have a place that they feel safe at home to reconnect and recharge. And so it is critical in our system that we have these partnerships like Council for the Homeless to be able to navigate those housing needs and utilize the resources we have in the community.
Kate, why is supporting students and families a special focus of the council?
Kate Budd: The challenges for youth, who do not have their basic needs met, to be able to learn is really what motivates the Council for the Homeless and me to want to work closely with our schools and particularly with our Family-Community Resource Centers. We know that when kids are in crisis, their basic needs aren’t met, that they’re not in a place to be able to learn. We also know that will make it even more challenging for them to thrive as they continue to grow and enter into the workforce and become adults. So we want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to help support them and their families so that they have an opportunity to be ready to learn. We also are seeing that play out due to COVID. Like Melissa mentioned, it’s just much more difficult to both find families and youth who are struggling, and so working more closely with our community partners has helped us be able to identify who has the pulse on this particular family that we’re worried about, or that particular family or youth. That’s also a part of our motivation, when we have partners who are working with us. We all want to help and be able to move that family out of homelessness and into stability. So it’s just incredibly important. We’re fortunate to have so many strong partners and dedicated staff who selflessly want to make sure that families have what they need.
Thanks, Kate. Melissa, what are some examples that you’ve seen of students who were positively impacted and helped by the council?
Melissa Newhouse: Well, this year we have had quite a few. But one that sticks in my head we’ve been working a lot with is a young girl who left a situation that was very unsafe in her home. And through the council, we got her through Janus Youth. She is now being housed in a hotel until they can get her into her apartment. It takes a village. It took all of us to get her to that point. And like Kate said, we have to make sure basic needs are met before a student can start learning well. Do they have a place where they can do their homework? Are they coming to school or doing their homework on the side of the street? We want to make sure that we have access to places to produce those positive outcomes. With this particular student, she’s an outstanding student and her teachers and the staff have been really supportive and have also helped us with this. She’s a senior, so we’re gonna have a graduating senior this year. That’s pretty awesome.
That’s a terrific story. It’s really the kind of relationships and partnerships that we have cultivated collectively as a community to attend to every child regardless of race, regardless of zip code, in an effort to really lift all students up.
Tamara, please talk a little bit about the broader impact of these kinds of relationships and partnerships in the Vancouver community, and really the manner in which our community schools work has served as a catalyst for that collective impact.
Tamara Shoup: The community schools initiative is really focused on those creating healthy, safe environments for kids to learn, in schools and in neighborhoods. One of the ways that partnerships like with Council for the Homeless have impacted our ability to address the health of the community is in creating more stability in neighborhoods. Last year, we were able to address the housing needs for 1,500 children in our schools. That’s just a fraction of what Council for the Homeless is doing in those school neighborhoods to make sure that where they live, where they play and where they learn is safe and healthy. And during the pandemic, as we all know, home became the class. And the neighborhood became the social connections. So making sure that when they’re walking down the street in their neighborhood, they have a place where everyone is sheltered and everyone is safe. That creates a better social community, healthy community, for everyone in our school neighborhoods.
Kate, you’ve been described as working tirelessly to secure affordable housing and build relationships with landlords to rent to families experiencing homelessness and economic hardship. What makes you so passionate about this work?
Kate Budd: A great deal of the credit goes to my amazing and dedicated staff, many of whom really do know the challenges of trying to learn without having their basic needs met, and therefore are incredibly empathetic and dedicated in the work that they do.
I began my career in social work over 20 years ago, working as an AmeriCorps member in school districts in Oregon, and also in high schools. During that time, it quickly became crystal clear to me that when student needs were met, and particularly the needs that they identified for themselves, that they were able to move forward and learn and succeed and succeed astronomically well. That really continues to be on the forefront of my mind as I continue as the head of the Council for the Homeless, and through other roles throughout my career. I had a student named Marco whom I never have forgotten. He was hyper-focused on his dirty clothes. He never wanted to be near other kids; he sat alone during recess. My job was so flexible that I had time to just sit down with him and get to know him and learn more about what was motivating him to not interact with other kids. Ultimately, it was that he was teased so relentlessly about his dirty clothes, he felt like it was a better choice for him to just sit by himself. And so I had the opportunity to procure a washer and dryer for our school, and to work with his mom and other moms to come in, bring their laundry and get the laundry done. Something as simple as having a regular place for laundry to be done changed his entire trajectory, at least for that year. He started to succeed and interact with kids and interact with myself and other staff in a much more positive way. It’s experiences like that, that I take with me. That fuels my interest in making sure we’re working collaboratively to do everything we can to support families and youth.
Absolutely. Community schools work fundamentally is about transforming student trajectories. It’s about providing the kind of support that accelerates student achievement, closes gaps and get more kids across the finish line. Kate, thank you so much for the passion that you bring to this work and the authenticity in lifting up children and families that are experiencing homelessness and poverty. Melissa, thank you for your commitment to connecting and resourcing supports to the children and youth of our school system. And Tamara, thank you for your undying commitment to scale our community schools work in Vancouver Public Schools.