[Hpn] Milwaukee, WI - 7,000 Public School students reported homeless - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - November 21, 2003

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7,000 Public School students reported homeless

Their plight called 'mountain to climb'; collaboration urged
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By GEORGIA PABST - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - November 21, 2003

Milwaukee, WI -   Increasing poverty and homelessness is "a
great mountain to climb" in removing barriers to academic
success for Milwaukee Public Schools students, the
district's superintendent said Friday as officials reported
that more than 7,000 MPS students are homeless.

Education

According to Superintendent William Andrekopoulos and other MPS
officials who attended a forum on student homelessness and
mobility:

>From 7,000 to 8,000 students now attending MPS are classified as
homeless.

About 10,000 students live in public housing.

More than
25,000 MPS students have no health insurance.

In addition,
Andrekopoulos said, some 80% of district's 100,000 students are
eligible for free or reduced lunch, which means they are poor.

Andrekopoulos said what's also needed is more public sensitivity
to the critical issue of poverty facing students.

"We need to increase sensitivity in the hearts and minds," he
said. "We must see the world through the eyes of children whose
only meal a day may be the one they have at school."

Other MPS officials who attended the meeting at the Social
Development Commission, 4041 N. Richards St., said they want to
form partnerships with government agencies to deal with the
growing poverty issues among students.

But Joe Volk, the chairman of the Emergency Shelter Task Force
and coordinator of the Continuum of Care Homeless Coalition, said
it's been hard over the years to get MPS to work with homeless
groups on this issue.

"We have had a very hard time energizing MPS around this," he
said at the forum, which included representatives of MPS, the
Social Development Commission, community agencies and a few
elected officials.

"We meet monthly," said Volk of the Emergency Shelter Task Force.
In addition, he said, "The Continuum of Care works with many
private non-profit groups, but MPS rarely shows up.

"We encourage MPS to come to our meetings and get involved."

Volk said MPS is always sent meeting notices but rarely
responds.

Father Tom Mueller, chairman of the education committee of the
Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH), said
that he believes the new MPS administration led by Andrekopoulos
is trying to grapple with the issue.

"The previous administration was in strong denial about this," he
said. "I heard the superintendent (then Spence Korte) say he was
not concerned with social issues and that the district needed to
focus on teaching reading and writing. This administration is
trying to come to grips with this."

Ada Rivera, the head of pupil services for MPS, said she recently
set up a meeting with homeless groups and thanked Volk for being
so vocal. "We want to work with you. Forget the past. Every day
there are new homeless children," she said.

Rivera said after the meeting that the district has to deal with
more than children who are in homeless shelters. The federal
definition of homeless children is any child or youth who lacks a
fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. This now
includes children and youths sharing housing; living in hotels,
motels, trailer homes or campgrounds; or awaiting foster care.

Deborah Blanks, director of the SDC, said fighting homelessness
and poverty requires collaboration.

Elizabeth Burgess Erven and Dan Kramer of the Racine School
District explained a collaborative program they have started that
includes working with the Racine Housing Authority and Workforce
Development centers.

MPS officials at Friday's meeting said they wanted to start
similar collaboration.

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