Matthew’s Voice Project (MVP) is an effort to assist students in our public schools who are identified as experiencing homelessness. Much of MVP’s focus is on unaccompanied youth (identified by the school system as living on their own without support), providing them with the support and encouragement they need to complete high school. Homelessness is a problem in our community. In the 2015-2016 school year, approximately 231 students were identified as homeless in the Fargo Public School District, alone. The district’s homeless liaison provided support to 70-80 students per day. Families and unaccompanied youth live in shelters, cars, hotels, camp grounds, garages or doubled up with family and friends.
Of the 231 students, 47 are considered unaccompanied youth (no parents or guardians in their lives). 15 of the unaccompanied youth, who were seniors, graduated last year. Several of these students are in college this fall or working in an apprenticeship-type job. West Fargo Public Schools has identified 44 students experiencing homelessness, with 4 unaccompanied. Of those students, 13 are in the high school, 4 are in the middle school and the remaining are in the elementary school systems. The numbers are quite different between the two schools, but the need is great across the boards.
While our public school systems receive federal grants to administer to the needs of homeless students, all of their day-to-day needs are not met through this program. The federal program is designed to take care of the basic school needs for the students (supplies, clothing, meals while at school). This is where the MVP helps.
Over the past three years, MVP has worked with area photographers, stylists and retail businesses to arrange for portraits for graduating seniors who would otherwise not have the opportunity. The portrait sessions have created a positive experience in boosting the seniors’ self-confidence and pride.MVP has also collected donations to ensure the graduating seniors were given a post-graduation party at a local bowling alley, complete with pizza and cake. These simple things are a normal part of a senior’s experience who is not homeless, but for a homeless student these would be impossible.
Our next goal is assist homeless students with more pressing day-to-day needs:
- Quality shoes to last them through the school year
- Dress clothes for work – many take server jobs where black pants and dress shoes are required
- Cell phones and pre-paid minutes – most of these students don’t have phones or lack the ability topay for them
- Technology needs such as jump drives to store homework to transfer between computers
- YMCA memberships
- Gas cards and taxi fares for transportation to their jobs
Homelessness is not just a problem within the Fargo and West Fargo Public School systems, but in other communities in our area. Our goal is establish this program in Fargo and West Fargo first and then expand to other school districts as resources become available. MVP donations are currently being routed through the Fargo Public Schools Foundation and West Fargo Public School Foundation.