ST PAUL, Minn. — Homelessness is a difficult topic to talk about, but when the conversation involves kids, it's even harder.
"A lot of times they don't want to say that they're overly tired because there were too many people in their house or they had to double up with other people," Anne McInerney said. McInerney is St. Paul Public School's McKinney-Vento Liaison.
McInerney explained that her job as a McKinney-Vento liaison is to be an advocate for homeless students and a protector of their rights. McKinney-Vento is a federal law and a liaison is required at every local educational agency.
"The thing we have to work on is building trust," McInerney said, referring to having a conversation about homelessness with students.
For nearly three decades, McInerney has done that within SPPS. Before she was the McKinney-Vento Liaison, she spent 22 years as a SPPS social worker. She has been the liaison for the past six years.
"What it assures is that students that have been identified as experiencing homelessness have certain rights," McInerney said.
So when Mayor Melvin Carter announced the Families First Housing Pilot program on Tuesday, McInerney said she was thrilled. Under the pilot, families with students enrolled in these seven schools can qualify to receive subsidized rent:
Benjamin E. Mays IB World School
Saint Paul City School
Saint Paul Music Academy
Jackson Elementary School
Dayton’s Bluff Achievement Plus Elementary
Maxfield Elementary School
John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary
"It does make everything just a lot more stressful if you have to choose between medication and rent and transportation and rent," she explained. "And I think having a rental subsidy like this would be really beneficial for those families."
McInerney said she understands that 300 dollars isn't an amount that could transform lives and that some might call with a complaint.
"So far I haven't had that phone call but that could happen," she said. "We do know that even in the city of St. Paul, that a lot of families are rent burdened because of the low income and high rent."
The subsidy isn't supposed to fix that, however, Mayor Melvin Carter did say on Tuesday that the subsidy was supposed to slide in before families reach a tipping point.
"This is a program that seeks to supplement and complement some of the other programs that already exist by not waiting until families are in crisis mode to try to pull them out of crisis," Mayor Carter said.
The district is now relying on the expertise of teachers to identify potential students who might need help.
"I think all St. Paul Public School teachers, all the teachers - are amazing at how they work with all students that show up at their door," McInerney said.
Qualifying families must have an income at or below 30 percent of the area-median income and they should be using 40 percent or more of their income for rent with no other housing subsidies like Section 8. The program started Wednesday and McInerney said she has been already receiving calls about it.
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