About Family Homelessness

About Family Homelessness

Posted November 19th, 2014 by Laura with No Comments

This week is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Each year, local and national organizations host events and increase advocacy efforts to raise awareness about the problems of hunger and homelessness in the United States. It’s an opportunity for organizations to educate and inspire compassion surrounding these issues.

When I tell people that I work at School on Wheels I am often asked a variety of questions ranging from, “How can a child be homeless?” to “How can a family become homeless?” The truth is there is no one answer to these questions. Homelessness is often caused by the compounded effects of numerous experiences in one’s life.

In fact, a year or so ago I wrote a story for a presentation about a child named, “Michael” to describe those compounded effects. “Michael’s” story is not based on any one School on Wheels student, but is representative of the complexities that exist in the lives of our students and families. The following is an excerpt from the presentation:

Michael has been jumping around from home to home over the years. He comes from a single parent family with two other siblings, ages 5 and 8. Michael is only 10 years old and is definitely the man of the family.  He and his family have never really had a permanent home. As long as he can remember, he has always lived from house to house. This is quite normal for him. Throughout the years, Michael attended 6 different schools because of this transience.

Michael’s mother has a high school GED. She never had a lot of positive experiences in school. Growing up she struggled in many subjects, and was never really supported to go to school. As a child she witnessed a great deal of violence in the home. Her father often took his anger out on her mother and sadly verbal and physical abuse became a part of the norm. Unfortunately, as a teenager she found herself with a boyfriend who mimicked much of the same behavior as her father, but she ended up marrying him. When she became pregnant with Michael’s youngest sibling, she decided she wanted more for her family, divorced their father and went to live with family and friends. Her employment has been sporadic though the years, the low wages she earns just aren’t enough for her family to make it out on their own.

For the last six months Michael and his family have been living with their elderly great aunt. Their great aunt has decided that she can no longer have them stay with her. She can’t handle the additional expenses and already has a hard time taking care of her house and home without the addition of guests. Now Michael and his family have exhausted all of the extended family and friends that they could stay with over the years. Michael’s mom decides that there is no where else to go but a homeless shelter.

The National Center on Family Homelessness shares a similar message, “Family homelessness is caused by the combined effects of lack of affordable housing, extreme poverty, decreasing government supports, the challenge of raising children alone, the changing demographics of the family, domestic violence, and fractured social supports. As the gap between housing costs and income continues to widen, more and more families are at risk of homelessness. For families with vulnerabilities or little safety net, even a seemingly minor event can trigger a catastrophic outcome and catapult a family onto the streets.”

5000 kids

This week, take some time to learn more about family homelessness by visiting the links below and engage your family and friends in a conversation about its impact. When we can unify the community in understanding the complexities surrounding those living in poverty and experiencing homelessness then we may motivate more individuals to be a part of a solution.


Learn more about family homelessness:

The latest report from The National Center on Family Homelessness shows that 2.5 million child (1 in 30) go to sleep without a home of their own each year. Click here to read the full report and find out where your state ranks.

Click here and here to listen to first-hand accounts of students and families who have experienced homelessness from StoryCorps.

Click here to listen to an American Free Press podcast related to child homelessness.

Every year, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP) participates in a point-in-time count that reflects the extent of homelessness in Indianapolis during one night of the year. Click here to see the findings from the 2014 count.

The latest statistics from the Indiana Department of Education show that over 5,000 students experienced homelessness in Marion County in 2013. Click here to read the recent Indystar article that gives a full outline of the extent of student homelessness in Indiana.

Interested in being part of the solution to family homelessness? Apply to become a School on Wheels tutor or get involved with other local organizations that assist those experience homelessness!




Meet the Staff: Cindy Ruby

Posted November 12th, 2014 by Shalyn with No Comments

Each month, we’ll be introducing you to a new School on Wheels staff member so you can learn more about the people who make our programs run successfully! This month, we’ll highlight Cindy Ruby, one of our Program Coordinators who manages tutoring every evening at our partner locations and makes it all happen. She has been a great supporter of School on Wheels for years – read on to learn more about her!

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What’s your role at School on Wheels?
I am the Program Coordinator at Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis (formerly IHN).  As a Program Coordinator, I oversee tutoring to assure the students and tutors have the most productive hour possible. I try to create an atmosphere that promotes learning. Once the kids arrive from school, they get settled in with a tutor and work on their daily/weekly assignments. If there is extra time, we have a variety of math and language art games both on iPads and in our tutor toolkits to use.

What do you do when you’re not Program Coordinating?
I work for Royal United Mortgage in the Compliance/Licensing Department.

Why did you decide to join the School on Wheels team?
I began volunteering at School on Wheels as a tutor about 5 years ago and liked it so well I applied for the next open PC position.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?
My favorite thing is getting to know the families at the day center and being a small part of their success. They are very brave to ask for help and work very hard at bettering themselves. I love it when the bus comes and the kids fly up the stairs to the tutoring room, throwing backpacks, asking for a snack and sharing the details of their day. It’s wonderful that we can provide a safe place for them to do that.

Can you share one of your favorite tutoring stories?
I have a favorite story from each night. Right now we have several children that get very good grades. They still crave guidance and attention and it makes us feel good that we can provide it.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?
I love all four seasons but really look forward to winter. I enjoy hibernating with books and movies and a nice fireplace. It’s my time to rest up for the rest of the year.




Supporter Spotlight: Raybourn Group International

Posted November 5th, 2014 by Shalyn with 1 Comment

At School on Wheels, we are lucky to partner with businesses and community organizations that provide us with volunteers and donations to help us further our mission.  This week, we’d like to highlight Raybourn Group International, a local business that started supporting our mission last December and, since then, has continued to make a huge impact on our programs.

raybournRaybourn Group International has really taken a “full circle” approach to their support. Not only have they collected books, gift cards, snacks, school supplies and prizes to benefit our students, they have volunteered their time to work on projects that benefit our tutors and students throughout the year. At their annual staff retreat, volunteers created 100 mini tutor toolkits and wrote notes to our students. The kits give new tutors entering our program a chance to learn more about our curriculum resources, and the notes provide an extra dose of encouragement to our students. They will be joining us again later this month to work on projects for the holiday season.

Sarah Steeno, Raybourn’s Office & Human Resources Manager, a strong supporter of School on Wheels and our main contact this year, shared her thoughts about the partnership, “RGI will continue to work with School on Wheels and help achieve their mission by offering support for the staff and tutors. This will allow the staff and tutors to continue to enhance educational opportunities for the students and help the students to achieve the highest level of education possible.”

We are so thrilled to have great community partners like Raybourn Group International! We truly couldn’t fulfill our mission without help from fantastic groups like this. Thank you!

Inspired? Learn more about our mission and check out ways that you (or your business) can get involved today!




Meet the Staff: Kris Hurst

Posted October 29th, 2014 by Sarah with No Comments

Each month, we’ll be introducing you to a new School on Wheels staff member so you can learn more about the people who make our programs run successfully! This month, we’ll highlight Kris Hurst, who has been working at School on Wheels for over three years. She recently had a very exciting visitor to her math and art lunchtime program – read on to learn more!

Kris 2 kris1 Kris 3

What’s your role at School on Wheels?
I am the Program Assistant and MartH Coordinator. I assist with curriculum development, volunteers and uniform distribution as well as run the Math and Art (MartH) program at Washington Irving School 14.

What did you do before you came here?
I had positions in both the social service and arts field. I have been a Case Manager for the Office of Family and Children, Reunification Family Case Manager for Child Protective Services and Child Care Worker in a group home. I also worked at the Indianapolis Art Center in the Education Department for 10 years.

Why did you decide to join the School on Wheels team?
Education and youth have always been key areas of interest for me. School on Wheels works to level the playing field for underserved youth and I believe in working towards that goal.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?
I love planning lessons for the kids in my program and seeing their faces light up when they are excited about a project.  With everything going in our kids’ lives, I hope that my students are able to learn in a creative and comfortable environment, take away new ideas, and that their time spent with myself and the tutors is both educational and an escape from their everyday stresses.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?
I really enjoy non-fiction and documentaries.

Can you tell us more about the MartH program and your exciting visitor a few weeks ago?
Mrs. Pence's Gift
The ‘MartH’ program uses art to support math skills being taught in the classroom. This is a Wednesday lunchtime program, available to 4th grade kids experiencing homelessness at Washington Irving School 14. Students learn about the relationships between the two subject areas. Our projects support concepts including angles, lines, measurement, fractions, multiplication, symmetry, area and perimeter.

First Lady Karen Pence visited our classroom on October 1st. She seemed to really enjoy looking at projects the class had completed as well as interacting with the students. We presented the First Lady with a  string art project involving multiplication that all the kids had a hand in.  Mrs. Pence is a former art teacher and was really inspired by the ways the projects integrate both disciplines. The kids enjoyed having a special visitor and went out of their way to interact with the First Lady.




Guest Post: How We Can Be the Solution

Posted October 22nd, 2014 by Kelly Coker with No Comments

On October 8, School on Wheels hosted its first ever Education Panel. This panel, Beyond the Headlines: Be the Solution to Education Barriers, was presented by SPOKES, School on Wheels’ community outreach and advocacy group, in partnership with the Butler University College of Education and Clowes Memorial Hall. Panelists from the medical, educational and social work fields joined together to discuss the hurdles our children, particularly those living in poverty, are facing while offering ways that individuals with any background or ability can help. Thanks to Kelly Coker, one of the members of SPOKES, for sharing some key points and her insights from the evening.

Beyond the Headlines Panelists

Beyond the Headlines Panelists

Sometimes the barriers to education our youth face can seem insurmountable. However, when Beyond The Headlines kicked off and the panelists began to discuss the situations our youth are facing, the conversation soon turned to empowerment and those obstacles seemed so much smaller by the end of the evening.

Dr. Wanda Legrand, Deputy Superintendent for Academics at Indianapolis Public Schools, was the first to speak and focused on how IPS is currently working to address the needs of homeless and low-income learners. “Our goal is to take down the barriers so transitions and meeting benchmarks are easier.”

Dr. Aaron Kalinowski, Chief Executive at Pedigo Health Center at Horizon House and Midtown Medical, talked about the physical challenges faced by these same students. “Chronic homelessness creates toxic stress and damages a child’s chance of learning.”

Dustin Ecker, Fourth grade teacher, explained that his homeless and low-income students often come to him so far behind.  It takes extra effort and extra measures to help close the gaps they are facing.

Crystal Haslett, McKinney-Vento Liaison in Washington Township schools, made us aware that sometimes simply identifying a homeless student is an obstacle to providing help. Students often hide the challenges their families are facing, and schools don’t offer them the very services that would benefit them.

And, Caitlin Gamble, Director of Policy and Research for Hoosiers for Quality Education and the Institute for Quality Education, accurately painted a picture of the challenges faced by state representatives as they work to provide the best policies in the education field. “They cannot be experts on every topic, or every issue within a specific topic.”

beyond the headlines

After the panelists outlined the obstacles they see in each of their professions, the panelists went on to provide insight on how to be part of the solution. They made some great suggestions that on ways that anyone can get involved, including:

  • Step up and ask, “How can I help?”
  • Help make your state representative an expert on education and barriers to low-income learners. Call. Write them.
  • Donate a school uniform, which is one of the biggest barriers for students attending school.
  • Step in to a classroom and help maintain high expectations for these students.  Tutor them, and expect them to do well.

As I walked out the door from Beyond The Headlines, I was empowered. When it comes to education, there is something I can do. There is something everyone can do. The overwhelming sense I got as the panelist spoke was…simply do something. No matter how big, or how small, anything helps. Step up and ask…what can I do? If you ask the right person, you will certainly get an answer!

- Kelly Coker, SPOKES member

If you missed the panel and are curious for more highlights, visit Laura Stelsel’s blog for Kappa Delta Pi about our event or check out some of the evening’s #bethesolution conversation that took place on Twitter.