Homeless children need consideration for their special needs
THERE are many ways in which to battle poverty. Governments can institute minimum wages, provide free or subsidised public housing, and give seasonal handouts. These measures help. But the single greatest game-changer is a good education. In an upwardly mobile society, education can help the children of the poor to break the cycle of poverty seemingly set for them by the preceding generation. A good and solid education, when matched with the opportunity for tertiary studies, can bring a dimensional difference to the next generation's life. But at the basic, without a school leaver's certificate, without the ability to at least read, write and do arithmetic, a person has greatly reduced chances of getting a job that could make any significant economic difference to his life.
For homeless children, the challenge is particularly tough. Whereas children in reduced circumstances but who have a home might have the stigma of being poor to contend with, the indigent have to survive the risks, discomforts and uncertainties of an itinerant life. And when the next meal or next shelter can be as unpredictable as the next year can be to an "ordinary" child, the fixed routine of waking up, going to school, finishing homework, and getting a good night's sleep -- the every day job of most children -- must surely be a luxury, if not pure fantasy.
But, being homeless does not mean the end of hope. Which is why a special school for street and homeless children in the Klang Valley is being proposed. This is not a new concept. In the United States, which has 1.5 million homeless children, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act 1987 made it federal law for all districts to increase enrolment and attendance in school, by removing the barriers to education caused by homelessness -- like lack of a fixed address, vaccination or documents. The district has to provide free transport for these children, no matter the distance. The schools that observed the spirit of this law found ways to provide more than just transport by also providing meals, healthcare, school supplies, school lockers, and even laundry services, so that the children wouldn't be embarrassed to go to school in dirty clothes. Schools that did not observe the law risk losing federal aid. Between 2008 and 2009, there were nearly one million homeless children in public schools. And though there are a handful of special schools just for the homeless, the majority get shelter and understanding from ordinary schools, learning cheek by jowl with all the varied young members of society.