By THOR JOURGENSEN
LYNN — Local school superintendents are turning to homelessness prevention advocates to help high school-age students who need to stabilize their lives after they graduate.
Lynn School Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham and Saugus Superintendent David DeRuosi Jr. discussed the problems arising from the lack of realization among youth that they are actually homeless.
“Students think that because they have a place to stay tonight at a friend’s house that they aren’t homeless. They don’t consider couch surfing an issue or sign of homelessness and, therefore, don’t report,” Latham said.
Latham and DeRuosi outlined their concerns in a meeting last week with North Shore Housing Advocacy Group (NSHAG) members, including NSHAG co-chair and state Rep. Brendan Crighton.
“Hearing these accounts and these stories from the superintendents and the people on the front line in the agencies that deal with this issue are exactly what I need be effective at my job on Beacon Hill,” Crighton told the superintendents and about 40 NSHAG members.
DeRuosi said school officials have a very limited amount of time that they can identify and assist students affected by homelessness because school-based assistance is available only while the student is in school.
“Once they graduate, we have no way of assisting them,” DeRuosi said.
Linn Torto, executive director of the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness (ICHH), said agencies and communities can combine resources to do a better job helping homeless youth and adults. She said assistance must be tailored to the homeless individual or family.
NSHAG administers the state’s funding for homelessness prevention in Essex County and has maintained its focus on assisting each city and town evenly. To date, NSHAG has assisted 33 individuals and families and 29 youth with funding related to housing prevention, startup costs or arrearages.
North Shore Community Action Program Executive Director Laura McNeil said pooling resources to fight homelessness provides participating NSHAG agencies with “new resources and information about services that could help their clients.”
“Each agency brings something to the table that could assist a family or individual,” she said.
Anyone interested in learning more about programs or funding for homeless youth, individuals or young families offered by NSHAG are directed to contact Sara Johnson at LHAND’s Family Success Center at (339) 883-2342.