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“Children of God”

You really need to read this Houston Press story about homeless students and how one HISD elementary school tries to deal with them.

Of the 800 kids at Grissom Elementary, 300 of them — or 37 percent — are classified as homeless (a number not reached until the end of the school year last year). And Grissom isn’t unique or even the school with the most homeless in the Houston Independent School District — that distinction probably goes to Ruby Thompson, which is tied into the Star of Hope family shelter.

Homeless doesn’t always mean kids are out on the street or living in a shelter. At Grissom, most have moved in with another family, whether friends or relatives — that’s called “doubling up.”

They can be classified as homeless while they’re still in their houses or apartments but have no utilities because the family can’t afford to pay for them. “You have the shell of the house, but you have no running water, no electricity; you’re basically camping in the house,” said Peter Messiah, head of the HISD Homeless Education Office.

Across the sprawling urban-suburban-rural district that is HISD, there are 3,000 kids identified as homeless, Messiah said. He predicts with confidence that actually there are a lot more with families too embarrassed to “self-identify,” to say they have no place to call their own.

At schools with heavy percentages of homeless kids, problems and needs occur that aren’t going to happen en masse at, say, a River Oaks or West U elementary.

Math specialist Paula Correa said it’s not unusual for students to come to school and tell her: “My dad has just been deported. My mom has to go back to Mexico, but I’m born here and I want to stay here.” In one case, the father had been deported twice, and the mother was left with seven children. Edwards put a note in teachers’ boxes asking for donations, and when they took them over, “They acted as if we’d brought Jesus to the house.”

Sometimes the nonacademic endeavors include combing out a girl’s hair in the morning when a depressed parent has abandoned the task or whisking someone off to the restroom for a quick scrub when personal hygiene has lapsed. A kid who shows up in shorts on a freezing day is taken to the counselor’s office, where Deborah Coleman dips into her closet and comes out with something warm.

“We have extra coats. We have extra food. We do a lot of work with the whole child and not just the classroom piece of the child,” said Principal Cynthia Smith.

They even teach elementary-age kids how to wash their own clothes in the sink at night.

It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Read it and see for yourself. Kudos to the Press for reporting on this.

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