Educating homeless kids


Becky Hicks gives homeless students access to the St. Paul public schools

I believe in public education. I have a passion for social justice and a fundamental belief that those who are able to help should help those who cannot help themselves. As the St. Paul Public Schools homeless liaison, my job is to ensure that homeless students are given the opportunity to enroll and attend school and receive the services they need to be academically successful. I am very fortunate to have a job that allows me to combine my passions and beliefs in the work I do every day.

Fresh out of college and wanting to change the world, I hit the ground running as a community social worker at a multi-service agency in east St. Paul. There, I conducted support groups for school-age children, provided support to families in public housing, assisted in the food shelf when it was short- staffed and collaborated with local public schools. The work I did in the seven years at that agency laid the foundation for the work I do now.

I had always wanted to work in public education; 15 years ago I left the agency to work for St. Paul Public Schools. For 10 years, I was a school social worker; I loved the work and the relationships I developed with kids and families, but part of me was very frustrated with policy, procedures and eligibility factors that often kept students from getting the assistance they needed. I decided I needed to get into a leadership role so I could make systemic change to improve services to kids.

After I received my master’s of education in youth development and leadership from the University of Minnesota five years ago, I became the homeless liaison for St. Paul Public Schools. This job is a perfect fit for my combination of education and experience. In graduate school I learned about best practices in program development and my work as a social worker taught me first hand about kids’ needs and the gaps in services.

I oversee a staff of 30 who work to ensure the educational rights of homeless students. The program provides access to transportation to school regardless of how many times a homeless family moves; school enrollment assistance; school supplies and uniforms (if necessary); referrals to community medical, mental health, housing and food resources and academic services in several local shelters.

This past fall, I went door knocking to help pass our district’s referendum. I was able to see first hand how many vacant properties there were in just one neighborhood. Our program served close to 1,300 homeless kids in the 2006-2007 school year. I personally know the families who need access to these properties. Why can’t we simply put those in need of a house into one of the vacant homes?

My biggest challenges are the same ones I had when I did direct service-now I just see them through a different bureaucratic lens. It should not be as difficult as it is to end homelessness. I hope I live to see the day that it truly ends.