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For homeless kids, school can be 'place of stability'

| Saturday, April 9, 2011

Terrance Moses bounced from shelters to motels to relatives' homes, trying to maintain a sense of normalcy during his childhood.

"Coming from a family of 12, it wasn't always easy on Mom," said Moses, 19, one of an estimated 1,700 homeless students in Allegheny County. "It was hard sometimes. Sometimes we didn't have anybody to turn to."

Moses and about 250 people from social service agencies, educational institutions, supporting foundations and elected offices on Friday attended Summit II at the Rivers Club, Downtown, to discuss better ways to identify and educate homeless children.

"This is a group of kids who are in many ways invisible and forgotten," said Charles LaVallee, director of the Homeless Education Network, a coalition of organizations. "They're special people deserving of dignity ... and all the resources we can give them."

For a homeless student, "school is the one thing that perhaps doesn't change," said Barbara Duffield, policy director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. "School can be that place of stability ... be the place where they get the skills they need to escape poverty."

Researchers estimate there are about 43,000 homeless children in Pennsylvania and about 1 million nationwide. Officials said the economic downturn since 2008 has increased student homelessness.

Identifying homeless students enables administrators to help them with school enrollment, meals and special education programs, said Joseph F. Lagana, founder of the Homeless Children's Education Fund, which set up 11 learning centers in shelters. It offers summer programs and money for field trips.

"We exposed the problem. Now we're working with shelters and families to bring them all together," Lagana said.

Moses, who drew a standing ovation for a rap song he performed about his experience, will graduate from Sto-Rox High School in McKees Rocks in June.

With the skills he learned at Parkway West Career & Technology Center in North Fayette, Moses hopes to follow through on a promise he made to his mother.

"I always told Mom, 'I'm going to build you a house one day,'" he said. "I'm going to do everything I have to do to build my mom that house."

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