MERIDEN, Conn. (WTNH) — When most of us hear the word “homelessness” we picture adults living in the streets. That is not always the case because thousands of Connecticut kids are without permanent homes, bouncing from place to place. But there is help that’s all free, but most people don’t know about it.
Next month, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness will be conducting a youth homeless count across the state. Last January’s count found that there are at least 3,000 kids that are homeless because of dysfunctional families or other causes. It’s found everywhere but larger urban areas, like New Haven, have the largest need.
In Meriden, they’ve had a special program in the high schools for the past two years that raise awareness among students and teachers about the state and federal services that are available to kids in these most difficult situations.
“We know we have students who are homeless. They are living with friends one night, living in a car another night. And most communities are dealing with this,” says Meriden Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni.
Under federal law, kids in unstable living situations have the right to free lunch, school supplies, transportation and tutoring, even if they are temporarily living outside of their school district.
Senior Shaki Rios falls into this category and although he’s reluctant to talk about it says he is getting help because of the outreach program at Meriden.
“I don’t live with my mom anymore so I had to move to different places like my brother’s or my cousin, back and forth,” said Rios.
Today, Shaki and other students took part in a discussion with the Governor and the Education Commissioner to help launch a free online tool kit and video for kids and teachers to get the information on these services and know their rights under the law.
“Luckily at our school we have liaisons, we have people here that can help them and that’s happened,” said Senior Mia Atterbury.
“I am aware, my brother’s actually friends with someone in similar conditions,” said Senior Jake DeFrancesco.
“Sometimes we get our best information from our students and this builds the relationships between teachers and students,” said local teacher’s union President Erin Benham.
The free toolkit is now available to all schools to download online.