Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

A Stable Home, A Stable Education

July 25, 2012

Here’s a story about how an innovative project in Tacoma, Washington is helping homeless families find stability AND improving their children’s outcomes in school.

It’s called the McCarver Elementary Special Housing Program in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma. The project is showing so many signs of promise that U.S. Deputy Secretary of HUD Maurice Jones visited the school this week. 

McCarver Elementary has a very high number of low-income students and had an exploding turnover rate for students – between 110-180%.  Often, kids attending classes there would leave on a monthly basis, and the class would turnover again a few months later.  The situation was definitely, NOT a stable environment for the teachers to teach in – and more importantly for the children trying to learn.

So, an idea was proposed by creative local leaders to pair the Tacoma Housing Authority with the Tacoma Public Schools, with active support from the mayor’s office, county government and other community partners. 

Here’s how it works.  Last year, 50 families in Tacoma who were homeless and who have a child enrolled in grades K-2 at McCarver were provided five years of housing support, in exchange the parents promised to keep their children in McCarver, become actively engaged in their kid’s education, and work on their own job and financial goals.

A single dad with five children taking part in the project explained how it has changed their lives.  He said, “We now have a place to call home. We have a future. I’m going to school, too and hopefully I will get a degree and a job to support my family. You’ve saved our lives.”

Parents attend parenting classes, and their kids are eligible for summer school programs.  In May of this year, the average monthly incomes of these families had increased by more than $1,300.

This project is working across multiple systems. The flexibility here is key – to be able to customize supports and encourage parents and young people to seize the opportunity to succeed.



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