MARQUETTE — Teachers, activists and community members came together today for a conference to discuss how to overcome poverty in the U.P. ABC 10’s Sarah Mac has more on what programs are in place to fight homeless for students.

The Marquette Alger Regional Education Service Agency – or MARESA – hosted the U.P. Fall Conference on the Education of Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness. The conference was to inform educators, parents and community members what resources are available under the McKinney-Vento Act.

The act defines what homelessness is and who qualifies for assistance.

Grant Coordinator for Homeless Education at MARESA Kristen Peterson says, “Homelessness – it looks different, it takes many different forms. It’s lacking a fixed, adequate and regular nighttime residence. So homelessness isn’t just living on the street under McKinney-Vento.”

Under the act schools are required to have a homeless liaison which is an extra role given to a teacher, counselor or school administrator. Even though that may seem like a tough gig – to identify homeless students and families – there is something even tougher.

State Coordinator of Homeless Education for the Michigan Department of Education Pam Kies-Lowe says, “The liaisons identify the kids, they serve the families – that’s the easy part actually. The difficult part is breaking all the barriers, and the misconceptions and prejudices against families without housing.”

To break down those barriers schools rely on donations from community partners to help provide school supplies clothes and other materials. It also takes teachers and volunteers to make schools and locations for after school programs safe places for children and youth.

According to information for MARESA, nearly 1500 students were reported as homeless in the Upper Peninsula last year, based on the definition of homeless set by the McKinney-Vento Act. Which is why this collaboration is so important, it makes sure that nothing and no one slips through the cracks.

Feed the Children donated backpacks to MARESA earlier this week, for local superintendents to collect. Attendees of the conference were able to take some of the remaining backpacks home to their school districts.

For information on assistance for you or someone you know click here.