KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Editor's note: This is Part One of a two-part story.
Hogan Preparatory Academy alumna Janay Smith experienced a lot of instability at home growing up.
"My mom, she had a lot of mental issues, a lot of trauma left untreated from when she was younger, which drove her to, you know, abuse drugs and alcohol," Smith said.
It was an issue that meant, at times, Smith and her siblings were in foster care, bouncing around from one relative's to another, or worse.
"I know there were times that I just wandered around Kansas City and stayed awake because I didn't have anywhere to go," she said.
Hundreds of other students in the metro have faced similar situations. Data from 2020 show that Kansas City, Kansas, had the highest number of students experiencing homelessness, or housing-challenged students, at 893.
Kansas City, Missouri, was next with 554, followed by Olathe Public Schools with 420.
But, Hogan Preparatory Academy has the highest percentage of any school in the metro. Out of 1,021 students, 244 students were classified as housing challenged, accounting for 23.9% of its student population. The academy is a Title One school in KCMO, meaning there is a higher percentage of low-income families.
And Hogan Prep Academy Social Worker Arthur Seabury said the stereotypical image of homelessness isn’t the only scenario they witness.
"So, when we think, ‘homeless,’ they are not all in a car or under a bridge,” Seabury said. “Many of them are in shelters, living with relatives, or couch hopping from place to place with families.”
He works hand in hand with Elisa Harrison, Hogan Prep's coordinator of student support services. She estimated that 80% of their students who are classified as homeless are actually "doubled up," meaning they are staying in homes with other extended family members or friends.
"So, I have (a) family, they've stayed with her aunt, they've stayed with her cousins, they've stayed with her grandparents,” Harrison said, “and so they just go from home to home.”
For these students, she said, sometimes school is the one constant in their lives.
That's been the case for a 16-year-old student 41 Action News is identifying as "James." His identity is being concealed because he's a minor and a ward of the state.
"I just think Hogan is a good place to go to,” he said. “It really helps, and the teachers they're good, they're like another parent to go to.”
After years in foster care, James and his two younger brothers were finally reunited with their mother, only for her to die last year.
They're now in the care of their older sister and her fiancé, who are applying to be their full-time, legal guardians.
"We're just learning as we go,” said James’ sister’s fiance, “and we're just, like I said, trying our best to try to help them as much as we can. Because they've been through a lot.”
These stories are all too common for many students classified as homeless, according to Seabury.
"Some are abused. Some have deaths in the families,” Seabury said. “Some just grew up in families that are income challenged. Some have parents incarcerated, murdered.”
While schools can't erase the past for these teens, they can try to make the present more comfortable.
Students across the country who don't have fixed or adequate housing qualify for extra assistance through the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. That includes ensuring students can continue attending their school of origin, no matter where they're staying.
"I have had students in one school year they've lived in Kansas City, they've lived in Olathe, they lived in Blue Springs, they lived in Raytown, they lived in Lee's Summit, all in one school year. But, it doesn't matter," Harrison said.
To transport these students, Hogan Prep contracted with a private company, Overland Chauffeured Services.
Though drivers know their routes can change from week to week – even day to day – they said providing that service to students is worth it.
"Our staff, our team, we're very excited to help and be involved as well,” Diane Forgy, Overland Chauffeured Services owner, said. “So it's just a feel-good thing, every day.”
For schools tackling homelessness, it's another resource they offer, in addition to teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic – all aimed at keeping students in school and on track.
"We want to keep our arms wrapped around these students because they are so close to making change in their life,” Harrison said. “They are so close to making change in their families. They are so close to breaking the cycle.”
And, in many cases, the assistance they receive in school helps make a difference. That was the case for Smith, who not only graduated early from Hogan Prep with college credits, but now is a full-time student at Avila University.
"I don't know where I would be today if I didn't have Hogan,” she said. “You know, their help and their love and support. It was just really, really hard, and.... I'm just grateful.”
To see if you qualify for McKinney-Vento services, you can reach out to your district's student coordinators:
- Blue Springs School District: Sam Gilkey, Sgilkey@BSSD.net (816) 874-3280
- Center School District: Dr. Stacy King, 816-349-331, email@example.com
- Excelsior Springs School District: Kim Curtis, 816-630-9230 ext. 3728, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fort Osage School District: Deanna Rymer, 816-650-7057, email@example.com
- Grain Valley School District: Dr. Brad Welle; firstname.lastname@example.org (816) 847-5006
- Grandview School District: Angela Cordier, 816-316-5037, email@example.com
- Hickman Mills School District: Danyca Singleton, (816) 316-7085, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Hogan Prep Academy: Elisa Harrison, email@example.com (816) 866-6203
- Independence School District: Nicole Sequeira, firstname.lastname@example.org 816-521-5300 x 10036
- Kansas City School District: Melissa Douglas, (816) 418-8679, email@example.com
- Kearney School District: Jennifer Kopp, firstname.lastname@example.org 816-628-4116 x21805
- Lee’s Summit School District: Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Student Services (816) 986-1000;
- Liberty School District: Rebecca Bressman, 816-736-5310, Rebecca.Bressman@lps53.org
- North Kansas City School District: Janelle Porter, email@example.com 816-321-5000
- Oak Grove School District: Buffie McConville, 816-690-4156, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Park Hill School District: Dr. Andy Schuerman, SchuermanA@parkhill.k12.mo.us 816-359-5652
- Platte County School District: Dr. Jennifer Beutel, email@example.com 816-858-7001.
- Raytown School District: Michele Eagle, firstname.lastname@example.org 816-268-7000
- Sedalia School District: Dr. Nancy Scott, 660-829-6450, email@example.com
- Smithville School District: Lisa Manz, 816.532.3178, 816.532.4566 x7817, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Atchison School District: Nichole Honeywell, 913.360.6502, email@example.com
- Basehor-Linwood School District: Ashley Razak, firstname.lastname@example.org (913) 724-1396
- Blue Valley School District: Adam Wade, email@example.com (913) 239-4623
- Bonner Springs School District: Leticia Porter, firstname.lastname@example.org (913) 422-5600
- Desoto School District: Robert “Joe” Kordalski, email@example.com (913) 667-6250
- Gardner-Edgerton School District: Melissa McIntire,firstname.lastname@example.org (913) 856-2000
- Kansas City, Kansas, School District: Jessica Smith, 913-279-2150, email@example.com
- Lansing School District: Mary Alice Schroeger, firstname.lastname@example.org (913) 727-1100
- Lawrence School District: Jennifer Bessolo Asststant, email@example.com (785) 330-2304
- Leavenworth School District: Amy Sloan, firstname.lastname@example.org (913) 684-1400
- Olathe School District: Heather Schoonover, email@example.com (913) 780-8233
- Paola School District: Tammy Thomasson, firstname.lastname@example.org (913) 294-8000
- Topeka School District: Joy Grimes, email@example.com (785)730-8350, and Leslie Carr, firstname.lastname@example.org,(785)235-7601
- Wichita School District: Cynthia Martinez, email@example.com