Expert Panel Discusses the Dire Problem of Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Discussion at CHOP Karabots offers solutions for interrelated problems in health and education

Homelessness Roundtable

This week, at the CHOP Karabots Pediatric Center in West Philadelphia, I convened a panel of experts to discuss what can be done about the dramatic and catastrophic surge in children and youth experiencing homelessness across Pennsylvania.

From 2011 through 2019, the number of school-aged children experiencing homelessness in our commonwealth jumped from 28,000 to more than 40,000.  A quarter of those are younger than school age. And the pandemic has only accelerated that rise, according to our panel.

Senator Vincent Hughes
Roundtable on Child and Youth Homelessness in the Education System

The Karabots Center was an appropriate place to have this discussion since there is a close correlation between stable housing and stable health. At the same time, both housing and health are related to education success, and education success prevents a vast array of societal problems.

Through a nearly 90-minute discussion, our panel kept returning to this interrelatedness and the need for various government “silos” to break barriers and move available funding to where it is most effective.

“You cannot expect somebody to have positive health outcomes if they don’t have a safe and stable place to live or lay their head at the end of the day,” said Meg Snead, acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Human Services. “There’s a lot more we can do with how Medicaid intersects with housing.”

State officials are now working on a waiver from federal health officials that would allow some Medicaid funding to be used to provide housing because health spending can be wasted if the patient’s housing is unstable.  And the same is true for education.

“If everything isn’t stable with the housing, then the families and the kids themselves can’t focus on the education,” said Nia Murray, a school counselor at Alain Locke Elementary School in West Philadelphia.

Roundtable on Child and Youth Homelessness in the Education System
Colleen Landy

The discussion brought forth numerous ideas from those with first-hand experience in the system, from a shared definition of homelessness to shared data to better assess the scope of the problem.

The time for solutions is now.  Pennsylvania is sitting on billions in surplus funds while 9,000 pre-school children are sitting in shelters, foster care or someone’s spare bedroom.

Roundtable on Child and Youth Homelessness in the Education System
Paige Joki

I’d like to thank CHOP Karabots, Secretary Snead and this list of contributors for their work and contributions to this important discussion:

  • Paige Joki, Esq, Staff Attorney, Education Law Center
  • Marion Campbell, Executive Director/Co-Founder, Eddie’s House
  • Melissa Berrios Johnson, MSW, Homeless Health Initiative Social Work Trainer, CHOP
  • Colleen Landy, MS, Director, Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness, The School District of Philadelphia, Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities
  • Storm Y. Camara, M.Ed., M.S., ECYEH State Coordinator, Bureau of School Support, Pennsylvania Department of Education
  • Nia Murray, School Counselor, Alain Locke Elementary School
  • Joe Willard, Vice President, People’s Emergency Center