Keeping SCHORE: UPD Consulting Helps Connect Baltimore Students to Affordable Housing

Published in Children’s Voice Volume 30, Number 1
by Ann Willemssen

At the end of most school days, Joe Manko, the principal of Liberty Elementary School in West Baltimore, would place students into taxis waiting to drive them to their temporary resting spots across the city. These were Manko’s students experiencing homelessness, heading “home” to sleep on the floors and couches of friends and relatives, on motel room beds, or in family shelters. And every day when he’d shut the taxi doors, Manko would look across the street at the many vacant row houses and think about how those buildings could be put to better use.

Across the United States, children identified by school districts as homeless under the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which is the primary piece of federal legislation related to educating children experiencing homelessness and includes both a definition and reporting requirements on identifying these students, are spending countless hours in traffic to stay in suboptimal housing conditions — but these inefficiencies and associated transportation costs pale in comparison to the toxic stress experienced by children and their families who are housing-unstable. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s 2005 publication Facts on Trauma and Homeless Children identified several alarming statistics. Compared to children who are housing-stable, children experiencing homelessness are twice as likely to repeat a grade, have twice the rate of learning disabilities, and have three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems. One third of children who have experienced homelessness before they turn eight have a major mental health disorder.

Hiring cabs is like placing a very well-meaning bucket under the faucet of an overflowing sink when the real solution is to turn the faucet off. And to turn off that faucet means helping families find safe, stable housing before they become homeless. It is clear that more needs to be done to connect and align the investments that governments and foundations make in affordable housing with the investments that those same entities make in education.

Manko brought his concern about the underuse of vacant properties in his school’s neighborhood to the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), and DHCD in turn brought the idea to UPD Consulting, a Baltimore-based firm focusing on social equity efforts. With the support of a one-time Fannie Mae challenge initiative to support innovations in housing and education, and in concert with Baltimore City Schools and an immensely dedicated steering committee of Baltimore leaders across the field (including Manko), UPD designed a model program that connects affordable housing opportunities to elementary school families—and will pilot the model in three Baltimore City elementary schools. Housing rehabilitation is about to begin, and the program expects to start placing families in homes in the spring of 2022.

The premise of the model is simple: We can achieve better outcomes for students if we more specifically connect the city’s affordable housing efforts to the educational institutions that know these children best. The DHCD will partner with affordable housing providers to facilitate the rehabilitation and maintenance of a selection of properties within the neighborhood of each pilot school. What is unique about this model is that the properties will be under the purview of the neighborhood elementary school; this allows school leadership teams to place families who are housing-unstable and have children in those schools directly into those properties. We call the model School-Centered Housing Response (SCHORE). Because the model centers around the relationship between the family and school, “school” gets top billing in this acronym.

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Ann Willemssen is a director at UPD Consulting and led the development of the SCHORE model. She would love to talk with anyone wanting to know more about SCHORE. Contact her at: