This year, about 255 homeless students are attending School District 65, about 100 fewer than last year, Joyce Bartz, Special Services director at District 65, told members of a City/Schools Liaison Committee on Oct. 21. She said she thought the number dropped because about 50 of the homeless children attending District 65 last year established residency here, and 50 moved elsewhere.
About 30 of the students registered as homeless are “political refugees,” who have come from another country in the last few months, said Ms. Bartz.
“They’re coming to us from a variety of countries, primarily Africa or the Middle East, and this is complicated. They connect with us primarily through some agencies in Chicago, and they [the agencies] have some housing that they’re providing for families at Custer and Brummel,” she said. Some of the families were “living in tent cities,” so “they have dramatic needs.”
Many of the children have not had any formal education, so it is unclear what grade they should be placed in. Language is a barrier, as most of the refugee students speak French, Arabic, Turkish or Swahili. They also require vaccinations and medical care.
“I’d say that the immediate needs of these students, what they require coming into our District, is some feeling of safety, because many of these children come from an environment that is very complicated,” continued Ms. Bartz. These students need “a sense of security and belonging and we’re really trying to help them establish relationships with teachers and other children.”
“We too are seeing exactly the same thing,” said Eric Witherspoon, superintendent of School District 202. “We just had a monumental increase right now of refugees. Many have not been getting any formal education, sometimes for years.” He added there are language issues, and housing is temporary. Evanston Township High School has hired staff to address the needs of these children.
Dr. Witherspoon added, “I don’t have a real handle on why we’re seeing such a big increase in Evanston.” He added he would be interested to see if this was a one-time increase, or if it is going to continue.
Alderman Jane Grover said a lot of it may be an international trend, pointing out that the United States recently agreed to accept refugees.
Ms. Bartz said she thought the federal government was contacting agencies in Chicago who accept refugees, and they in turn are locating some families in Evanston.
“We certainly welcome the families and the children,” said Dr. Witherspoon. “They’re lovely children.”