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Home > Research Articles > It's difficult to help kids, even if needs are known

nj.com

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Saturday, December 21, 2002

By Angela Daidone

Every year, between 150 and 250 homeless children are enrolled in Jersey City schools, according to school officials.

Many more are what is referred to as "invisible homeless" - those who temporarily live with other families, often two or three families in a single home. However, there is no way to keep track of those cases and problems that result can become quite unmanageable, said Linda Colon, special assistant to the school district's Department of Programs and Services.

"We run into problems with getting in touch with parents if there's a medical emergency or problem in school," said Colon. "Many times, all we have is the cell phone number of a friend of a friend. It's hard to reach these people."

Special social workers, called service brokers, are employed by the school board to reach out to families experiencing housing difficulties or who have financial, medical or social needs.

Kelly Gleason, one of Jersey City's six service brokers, said she has seen more families in temporary housing than she did 10 years ago when she started.

"I used to be able to call up a place like Hope House and have a family placed in a shelter within a few days," said Gleason. "That's just not possible anymore. They are full all the time."

Welfare agencies sometimes put families up in local hotels for short periods of time, but that creates another set of troubles.

"Sometimes there are mental health issues that need to be addressed; usually there are no cooking facilities in these hotels, so kids have poor nutrition; the stress level is terrible and there is a general sadness in these kids," said Gleason.

"The families are desperate to have a roof over their heads, but the effects are very, very problematic," she said.

Moreover, kids are often embarrassed to discuss the problem, adding to an already high level of anxiety, Gleason said.

"They believe that being homeless is shameful, so they keep it their little secret."