Penny Benton is the McKinney-Vento Homeless Liaison for DeKalb County schools. The McKinney-Vento Act provides rights and services to children and youth experiencing homelessness, which includes those who are: sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; staying in motels or campgrounds due to the lack of an adequate alternative; staying in shelters or transitional housing; or sleeping in cars, parks, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, or similar settings.
The Act was signed by Ronald Reagan in 1987 and is a United States federal law that provides federal money for homeless shelter programs. The legislation has been amended several times since it was first written and enacted. The Act is named after two politicians, Stewart McKinney and Bruce Vento. Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, every educational agency is required to designate a liaison for homeless children.
The educational agency liaison coordinates services to ensure that homeless children are identified and enrolled in school and have the opportunity to succeed academically. Children who lack documents or missed enrollment deadlines during any period of homelessness are still enrolled in school. The liaison also ensures that homeless children and families receive referrals to health, dental, mental health, housing, and other appropriate services.
Benton has held the position for five years. “It can be a very emotional job at times,” said Benton. “It is also a very rewarding job.” Benton said a residency form is sent home with all students and parents are asked to fill out one form per student. This enables Benton to identify who is qualified for help under the McKinney-Vento Act.
Benton said during COVID-19, she was seeing both parents in a home lose their employment, creating an unexpected hardship for the family. “Some families become temporarily homeless due to their home burning down,” said Benton. “They may be temporarily doubling-up, living with family or friends until they can get back on their feet. All of these situations entitle them to help under the McKinney-Vento.” Benton also said the school counselors play a fundamental role in the success of this program.
Posters are placed at each school with information about McKinney-Vento and guardians or parents may contact the school for more information. Benton said churches, businesses and the community are welcome to make donations. “What we need are new blankets, bed pillows, linens, clothing, hygiene supplies, and canned or dried food staples,” said Benton. “My future goal is to establish a food pantry in every school in the county.”
Benton said she can assist in having someone pick up supplies from individuals, clubs or church groups if necessary. “Every donation we get is put to use,” said Benton. She encourages parents to reach out to her for help and organizations and businesses to reach out to help support homeless children.
Contact Benton at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Penny’s Motto: “One of the greatest successes we will ever have is to help others.”
— Marla Ballard’s Who's Who appears in the Times-Journal Wednesday and weekend editions.