SARAH KING, McKINNEY-VENTO HOMELESS LIAISON
Sarah King remembers seeing people experiencing homelessness on the streets of Salt Lake City where she grew up and recalls thinking it didn’t seem fair.
Years later, while obtaining her master’s degree in social work, leading wilderness therapy with at-risk youth, interning with the non-profit Fort Collins Community Action Network, and working as a social-emotional learning specialist at Monroe, Lincoln, and Edmondson elementary schools, the injustice of homelessness stuck with her.
“Metaphorically, we’re always looking down at them” Sarah says. “Housing is a human right, and should be treated as such.”
As the McKinney-Vento Homeless Liaison for Thompson School District, Sarah’s job is to help students who are experiencing homelessness overcome the obstacles that might be hindering their educational success. But as Sarah explains, being “homeless” does not necessarily mean a family doesn’t have any shelter at all. In addition to families living outdoors, in cars, or in temporary shelters such as tents or campers, a student is also protected by McKinney-Vento if they live in other temporary situations, such as a hotel or motel, if they live with another family, or if they are an unaccompanied youth living without a legal guardian or parent. Sarah said that in schools, homelessness is defined as any student lacking a fixed and/or adequate place to live.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is federal legislation signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. It is considered to be the first significant law to address the plight of the homeless in the United States, and over the years it has been amended several times, perhaps most notably to protect children in our schools experiencing homelessness. That’s where people like Sarah come in.
“My job is to make sure that kid gets the same rights as all of the other kids,” Sarah says, explaining that she works to assist students with unstable living situations with things like waiving educational fees, providing transportation to and from school, and helping to ensure the continuity of their education. In TSD, we currently have almost 700 students from 400 families who are identified as McKinney-Vento.
Sarah explains how that lack of a permanent residence affects a student’s schooling and ability to learn. “Any kid lacking a fixed home also lacks stability,” Sarah says, explaining that as these students move around from place to place, their ability to get a consistent, quality education, as well as to make close friends and benefit from relationships with their teachers is impacted.
If you ask Sarah about the things she enjoys doing, she will tell you she has many interests: hiking, camping, skiing, live music, hanging out with her cat Albus, and listening to true crime podcasts. She also loves spicy food and maps. But when it comes to her career, her passion is focused on helping, and she especially loves tangible projects such as the non-freezing water fountain she helped get installed in Old Town in Fort Collins – something Sarah explained makes it so people without homes can have water year-round.
“There is so much criminalization and trauma involved in homelessness. Sometimes in America, we’re not the most preventative, and prevention starts with helping these kids,” Sarah says. “Our job is to help make sure we fill basic needs first. Federally, it is our job, but also, we see these kids more than anyone does. How could this NOT be our job? If education is our number one priority, how can this not be a part of it?”