Faces without Places helps homeless children achieve academic success

By Justin Jeffre

Faces without Places is an important organization that helps children that are experiencing homelessness. They have a fundraiser on November 2nd at the Syndicate in Newport so we thought it was the perfect time to find out more about their work. We spoke with Karen Fessler who sits on their board.

Streetvibes: What is Faces without Places?

Fessler:  Faces without places is an organization that was founded in 1998 with the purpose of supporting the educational needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness.  At that time the McKinney Vento homeless assistance act was taking hold and school districts were being required to implement the law even though it was an unfunded mandate.  Some districts were receiving money from competitive grants coming from the federal government to the state Department of Education. Debbie Reinhart was working for the Cincinnati Public School system as their homeless liaison and realized that the money coming from the federal government was not going to be enough to cover the expenses and needs of the children. She approached community members and asked them if they would be willing to develop a nonprofit organization that would raise money for homeless children.

Streetvibes: How many kids does Faces without Places serve?

Fessler: Faces without Places has served nearly 3,000 children per year over the last several years. The total numbers of children served since the inception of this organization are well over 30,000.

Streetvibes: How do you define homelessness?

Fessler: The McKinney Vento homeless Assistance Act defines homelessness as lacking a fixed permanent and adequate nighttime residence. Under the education definition of homelessness this includes children who are living in shelters, in buildings that don’t have adequate electricity running water or in general are not fit for human habitation and families who are forced to live in doubled up situations due to crisis.

Streetvibes: What are the causes of homelessness?

Fessler: The causes of homelessness are vast and varied but we see trends. Initially the McKinney Vento Act was drafted to address the needs of children who had become homeless due to domestic violence. At that time domestic violence seemed to be the number one cause of child homelessness. Other causes are loss of housing due to fire, bedbugs which has become a huge problem in the City of Cincinnati, economic hardships that may result from divorce, health crisis or loss of job and ultimately may result in families being evicted from their homes. Unfortunately for the families that we work with, they are living paycheck to paycheck so there is no nest egg to help them through these kinds of crisis.

Streetvibes: What has your experience working at Faces without Places been like?

Fessler: I began working with Faces without Places approximately 17 years ago. I was one of the original founding board members. Working with these families has become my passion and providing opportunities to meet the needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness has been transformational in my own life.

Streetvibes: What can people do to help your organization out?

Fessler: There are lots of ways that people can help faces without places. Certainly donating money is one of them, but we also like to have people who can donate their talents and their time.

Our 15th annual Yellow Bus Ball is coming up on Friday, November 2, 2012 at the Syndicate in Newport, Kentucky. This is our single largest fundraiser of the year. The money that we raise at this fundraiser helps support our enrichment programming and eight week summer camp for homeless children. It also allows us to provide backpacks and school supplies, shoe cards, vouchers for uniforms, and other items that children need to be able to attend and be successful in school.

Streetvibes: What statistics do you think shock people the most?

Fessler:  I think that most shocking statistic for people to hear is that the approximate age of a homeless person in America is nine years old. When you think about that statistic you realize then that for every one homeless adult that you see there are dozens of homeless children in this country. I remember when I first got involved with this organization and began talking about the problem people were shocked to hear how many children homelessness impacts. National numbers are showing on an annual basis we have over one and a half million of the children in this country who are defined as homeless. In Cincinnati the coalition estimates that there are approximately 6,000 children and youth experiencing homelessness in our area. The most common reaction I get when I talk about this is, “Where are these children?”

This is why we refer to children experiencing homelessness as invisible. People may hold certain opinions about the homeless population, but no one can blame a child for being in a homeless situation, this is why we say they have no choice and no voice.

Streetvibes: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about your organization or about children facing homelessness?

Fessler: I guess what I want people to know that this problem exists and it exists in large numbers. I want them to know that Faces without Places is an organization that addresses the needs of these children in a most critical area, and that is their education. No one would argue that education is the key to reducing the impact of homelessness on our future generations. We believe that by providing what children need to be able to attend school, advocating for what they need to be successful in school, providing academic enrichment activities that support achievement in school and we are impacting their lives today and their future tomorrow.