BCSD Conference takes proactive approach to combat homelessness

April 01, 2023

The Burlington Community School District will host a daylong conference April 21 aimed at reducing homelessness.

The YouthNet Conference: Collaborating for Change, will be from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Catfish Bend Casino Event Center.

The conference aims to take on a more proactive approach to combating homelessness, as well as increase awareness and outreach regarding the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which authorizes the federal Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program and is the primary piece of federal legislation related to the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness.

“We tend to be, as a country, really very reactive where someone will call you and they’re being evicted, they were evicted or they’re living in their car, they’re in a hotel,” said Cassie Gerst, supervisor of grants and community outreach for BCSD. “We wanted to turn that around, and that’s why we specifically structured this Resilient Communities project so we can be more proactive.”

Resilient Communities is a program aimed at increasing community awareness of adverse childhood experiences and the long-term health impacts that can follow, as well as the positive childhood experiences that can counteract ACES. BCSD is among four program participants in the state.

The conference will feature keynote speaker Emily Teeter, education program consultant with the Iowa Department of Education, followed by eight breakout workshops.

“(Teeter) specializes in consulting on the McKinney-Vento Act for all homeless liaisons in the state, so she will be discussing the state of homelessness in our public schools in Iowa and then doing a brief McKinney-Vento Act 101, so what is it, so there’s some definition and eligibility behind it,” Gerst said.

Those leading the workshops will be Kara Vojcsik, a licensed clinical social worker, and Sonia Pitzi, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness, who will discuss social-emotional

learning, help educators and service providers to confront their own biases, and bring awareness to the work being done with students and families experiencing homelessness through interactive activities.

Vojcsik will lead another workshop focused on mental health in the classroom, and Pitzi will deliver a session entitled “I Will Be Your Voice,” which will include reading of stories written by homeless Pennsylvania youths, as well as discussion of the needs of students experiencing homelessness.

Four Oaks Children’s and Family Services will be there to discuss collaboration in community-based services, housing, and how intentional integration of services can help communities, families and students; and Mona Ash, executive director of Building Bridges, will explore the impact the program is having on the community through helping build sustainability through community support.

Also present will be Dana Van Renterghem, parent and family coordinator for Iowa Safe Schools.

“They are going to talk about discussing barriers facing LGBTQ youth and the juxtaposition between student success in environments that provide inclusive curriculum and those that don’t,” Gerst said. “Often, LGBTQ are at high risk for homelessness and unaccompanied youth.”

The conference also will include a workshop led by Iowa Balance of State Continuing of Care Executive Director Courtney Guntly and Institute of Community Alliances Coordinated Entry Specialist Jason Smith, who will present on the Continuum of Care and the Coordinated Entry system, which connects homeless families to housing programs and other resources.

Gerst said the conference will benefit anyone who works with family and youths.

Lunch will be provided, and the event is free to attend. Register by Friday, April 7, at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bcsds-youthnet- conference-tickets-477557526417.