South Sound News

Homeless Tacoma school kids to get help from $10M expansion of program started at McCarver

In the next three years, the Tacoma Housing Authority is dedicating $10.5 million to expand its Education Project, which seeks to not only house homeless families but bolster student success in schools.

"THA seeks to have people join our housing programs and succeed, not just as tenants but also, as our mission statement contemplates, as parents, students, wage earners and builders of assets," said THA executive director Michael Mirra. "...We want this certainly for grown-ups who are capable of working. We want this emphatically for children and young people because we do not wish them to need our housing when they grow up. This transformation requires success in schools."

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That transformation includes more than $3 million to expand a program that used to be available only at McCarver Elementary.

Tacoma Housing Authority's Housing Assistance Program provides rent subsidies and support services like case workers stationed at schools. The goal is to stabilize the home lives of children for a better focus at school.

Last school year, the program paid to house 33 homeless families.

That's expected to jump to 150-300 families, spanning kindergarten through 12th grade.

"(The program) is helping to stabilize a factor that is outside our wheelhouse," said Thu Ament, director of K-12 leadership for Tacoma Public Schools, referring to housing.

Ament said the district has started rolling out the program, mostly at elementary schools in South and East Tacoma.

Both parties agreed to move forward with expanding the plan after "encouraging results" at McCarver Elementary.

Between 2005 and 2011, McCarver had more homeless students than any other elementary school in the region.

In that time, the turnover rate was as high as 179 percent in a single school year — meaning the entire student body changed not just once but nearly twice during the nine-month school term, according to previous reporting by The News Tribune.

The program was implemented in 2011, with a five-year evaluation released in 2017.

The latest report shows turnover rate at 91 percent as of the 2015-16 school year — still high but an "encouraging decline."

McCarver still has one of the highest number of homeless students in the district.

"Homeless students bring challenges to the school that the best trained teacher and the best equipped classroom cannot overcome," Mirra said. "That is where THA fits into education."

THA is working to secure about $2 million in additional funding to complete other goals of the Education Project, including:

▪ Expanding the College Housing Assistance Program to University of Washington Tacoma. THA currently pays to house more than 200 homeless or students at risk of becoming homeless enrolled at Tacoma Community College.

▪ Expanding the College Savings Account to all children in Salishan in 2020, all THA children in 2021 and citywide by 2023. The program launched in 2015 to all Salishan children attending a public school.

"We have a strong school district. We have strong community and technical colleges, and a strong UWT. Yet homelessness reaches far into their enrolled student populations," Mirra said.