school committee concerned by church shelter plans [Ohio] FWD

Tom Boland (
Wed, 8 Apr 1998 17:45:15 -0700 (PDT)
Cleveland [OH] Plain Dealer - Tuesday, March 03, 1998


By Jesse Tinsley, Plain Dealer Reporter

SHAKER HEIGHTS - Concerned that temporary homeless centers in churches
could overburden schools with new students, the Shaker Heights school board
is scrambling to address the issue - while remaining sensitive to the needs
of the homeless.

"We need to feel this out to see how long people might be staying" in the
churches, said the Rev. Marvin McMickle, school board president. "I
certainly would not be anxious about raising a red light for people who are
homeless. I would like to find a way to accomplish the good and at the same
time avoid any unnecessary strain on the school district."

The city's Planning Commission held a hearing last night but did not vote
on requests for conditional use permits by Plymouth Church and Christ
Episcopal Church, which want to house homeless families temporarily in
conjunction with Interfaith Hospitality Network.

The Cleveland branch of IHN plans to open some 40 shelters in Greater

If approved by Shaker Heights City Council, Plymouth Church, 2860 Coventry
Rd., and Christ Episcopal, 3445 Warrensville Center Rd., each would open
their doors to about four homeless families a year. The families would be
able to stay at the centers no more than four times a year, for a week at a
time. A maximum of 14 people would be allowed at a church at a time.

Christ Episcopal Church would also serve as the Network Day Center,
providing services such as job training and transportation to school for

School officials are concerned about a federal law that would entitle the
children taken in by the churches - even for one night - to attend Shaker
Heights schools. However, representatives of IHN said school officials have
nothing to worry about because children would attend the schools they went
to before entering the program.

School officials' concerns arise from the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless
Assistance Act, which is designed to ensure that homeless children have
equal access to educational opportunities.

The act requires school districts to remove enrollment barriers such as
residency, transportation and immunization requirements for students in
homeless families. Students could stay in the district for up to a full
academic year, the law states.

Shaker Heights schools, which have among the highest property taxes in
Ohio, spend more per pupil than most urban districts. Some parents try to
falsely claim they live in the community so their children can attend
school there. District officials worry that some families who may not be
homeless might seek shelter in one of the churches for a night to get
around the district's residency rules. The school board expects to discuss
the issue at its March 10 meeting.

"We are scrambling to have a discussion and formulate a position," board
member Nancy Morre said. "We are caught in a Catch-22. It is a very tricky
political situation for the district."

McMickle said he personally supports the Interfaith Hospitality Network,
adding that his Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland has agreed to become a
host for the program.

Superintendent Mark Freeman said the Shaker Heights district wants to know
what schools the children would attend and how the IHN plans to operate the
temporary shelters.

Freeman said. "The plight of homeless families and homeless children and
how the children are educated are areas of concern that as a society we
have to pay careful attention to."

IHN organizer Fred Hamilton said an IHN van will take children at the
shelters tot he schools they attend before entering the program.

"Shaker Heights is not going to be overrun by [nonresident] students,"
Hamilton said. He said the organization is "very selective" of families it
takes. "And we don't take the hard-core homeless, like drug-addicts."

IHN, started in 1988, is a network of churches, synagogues and volunteers
that seek to provide shelter, meals and services to homeless families until
they become self-sustaining.

IHN emergency shelters now operate in 13 states, inculding cincinnati, and
are being set up throughout Greater Cleveland. Homeless families would
rotate to a different host location for one-week periods, and volunteers
would stay overnight with the guest, Hamilton said.


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