The Next Step Program is a transitional housing program for homeless families attending school. This program originally served 50 homeless families with children in Mesa County School District #51 by providing rental assistance, security deposits and basic necessary needs for a two year period.
Intensive case management for these families addresses the causes of their homelessness and leads towards a higher degree of self-sufficiency and enrollment in the Housing Choice Voucher Program. With 98% of families transitioning into the Voucher Program at the end of the initial two-year grant period, a continuation of the program was approved. Therefore, in 2008, 34 more families were given two year coupons, and in 2010 41 new families received coupons. This highly successful program is a collaborative effort using resources from School District #51, the GJHA, Doors 2 Success, the Colorado Division of Housing (CDOH), City of Grand Junction and Mesa County.
Case management services are provided through a caseworker funded by the Mesa County Department of Human Services. Case management services include:
- Monthly personal visits to determine progress on clients’ employment or self-sufficiency plans.
- Employment counseling and referrals to training sessions at the Workforce Center.
- Referrals to appropriate employment opportunities
- Referrals to Workforce Center programs providing financial assistance for career-track training and opportunities.
- Enforcement of program rules that provide financial penalties for failure of clients to meet planned objectives.
- Referral to human service agencies in cases of abuse or neglect of any family member or referral to fraud investigators in the event any fraudulent activity is suspected.
- Opportunities to interact and learn from other subsidized housing recipients through organized events.
- Documentation of successful completion of the case plan.
Due to stigma attached to homelessness, many of the school children have yet to be identified and numbers are continuing to rise. In fact, the homeless population’s fastest growing segment is composed of families. More than 3,700 homeless children are in Colorado’s public schools, according to the Colorado Department of Education. Most of these children are not living on the street but are doubled up with family or friends, in motels or shelters.
In accordance with Title 10 of the “No Child Left Behind” Legislation and the McKinney- Vento Act, the School District has developed programs to assist these homeless children in order to stabilize the families and to improve the children’s potential to succeed in school. Frequent moves can diminish attendance. Attendance is the strongest predictor of academic performance, due to the continuity of lesson content. Multiple absences slow basic skills acquisition, which ultimately may result in failure and dropout. Forty-one percent of highly mobile students are low achievers, compared with twenty-six percent of stable students, and mobile students are half as likely to graduate. However, the key determiner of success for these children is a stable home life, which means, first and foremost, a stable home. This is a service that the School District is unable to provide. Children whose families participate in the Next Step Program have increased their school attendance and grades have improved.