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Families in transition

RACINE — Being forced out of a home because of an eviction could be a traumatic experience for anyone. But it can be especially so for children in an uncertain housing situation who are also facing the prospect of changing schools.

Holly Moore, a social worker at Case High School, has worked closely with multiple students who have gone through one or more evictions. She’s seen that these students typically struggle with confidence, don’t attend classes as regularly as their peers and can suffer mental health issues.

“I think that comes from that constant sense of living in fear,” Moore said. “I’ve worked with some kids pretty closely that have been through it a couple times.”

Racine has a more transient student population than the state as a whole. Roughly 52 percent of students in Racine made at least one move between the 2006-2007 and 2010-2011 school years, compared with 36 percent of students statewide.

That is according to a report prepared for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction by graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs.

Moore and her colleagues at Racine Unified who work with transient students on a regular basis said they didn’t know how many of those students had been evicted, but all believe it is a fairly common occurrence.

“I think we encounter kids very, very frequently that are living in that cycle, whether or not they always convey that,” Moore said. “We just know because of the mobility. They’re moving constantly.”

By the numbers

According to the report for the DPI, Wisconsin students who did not move in 2009-10 had statistically significantly higher test scores the next school year than students who did move. These trends are consistent for both reading and math standardized test scores.

In the eyes of Marcus Britton, an associate professor of sociology at UW-Milwaukee, sometimes people overlook the potential that is wasted and the cost to society when youths grow up in the cycle of eviction. These children might struggle to graduate from high school and hold down good jobs due to the setbacks that come with housing instability.

According to Matthew Desmond, a Princeton University sociologist and founder of The Eviction Lab, housing instability such as the kind caused by eviction can have a big impact on a child’s future.

“Compared with their peers, homeless students and those with high rates of residential instability perform worse on standardized tests, have lower school achievement and delayed literacy skills, are more likely to be truant, and are more likely to drop out,” stated a 2013 Harvard study coauthored by Desmond called “Evicting Children.”

According to Desmond, families are more likely to relocate after an eviction to disadvantaged neighborhoods.

“In the absence of residential stability, it is increasingly difficult for low-income families to enjoy a kind of psychological stability which allows people to place an emotional investment in their home, social relationships, and community; school stability, which increases the chances that children will excel in their studies and graduate,” Desmond said in a 2015 Harvard University study called “Eviction’s Fallout: Housing, Hardship, and Health.”

Moore said she mostly works with students who have been evicted to give them emotional support. When they know that an eviction is coming, Moore said, she can usually watch these students’ emotional well-being wane and their ability to handle outside stress plummet.

Some students are numb to the situation and have stopped trying to form connections with their peers or lack investment in their schooling, as they know another move is probable. These students are also more likely to drop out and be truant, according to Desmond’s 2013 study.

According to Andrea Rittgers, Unified’s director of student services, many transient students suffer from anxiety and depression because of a lack of control in their home life.

“Sometimes they’re very frustrated by their parents’ decisions,” Moore said. “They need to vent.”

What Unified does to help

Racine Unified helped 1,144 students and their families in the last school year through its Families in Transition program. That was an increase from the previous year’s 1,091, but significantly fewer than the 2,253 enrolled in the program in the 2013-14 school year.

The FIT program is a result of the McKinney-Vinto Homeless Assistance Act, a federal law passed in 1987 that requires districts to provide school stability to students who lose housing. After an eviction, the program helps students continue attending the same school for the rest of the year by providing transportation if their new housing is more than 2 miles from the school. These students also receive free lunch and a fee waiver.

“The main part is that it does keep them at their school so they don’t have to switch schools multiple times a year, because we know it’s very detrimental to their education,” said Kaylee Cutler, Families in Transition and truancy intervention specialist for Unified.

The district goes beyond the requirements of the act by providing items through the FIT program such as school supplies, hygiene items, deodorant and feminine hygiene products, as well as socks and underwear for elementary-age students. Cutler also refers students and their families to community programs that might help them.

Moore believes that more than 1,100 students last year would have qualified for help but didn’t sign up for FIT out of fear.

“A lot will move and won’t tell us the new address because they think we’ll kick them out,” Moore said.

Even though Unified allows students in unstable housing situations to finish the year at the same school, sometimes parents believe it’s easier for them to switch students to the new boundary school, especially if it’s near the new residence.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the parents, I don’t think, recognize the detriment of the mobility,” Moore said. “I don’t think they really realize how difficult school is when you are switching.”

Any Unified parent who is struggling because of eviction or homelessness can contact Cutler or a school social worker for help. Cutler can be reached by phone at 262-619-4620 or via email at kaylee.cutler@rusd.org.

“I think what kids go through with situations like this, unfortunately, are larger than what we can address, but I think we do the best job we can,” Moore said.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the parents, I don’t think, recognize the detriment of the mobility. I don’t think they really realize how difficult school is when you are switching.” — Holly Moore, Case High School social worker

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Sari Lesk contributed to this report.

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Reporter

Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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