A Child’s Place is a program for homeless students and their families in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte is a beautiful, clean, prosperous midsize city that is home to the largest bank in the United States. Many organizations, corporations, and individuals generously share their material resources with the destitute poor through their support of A Child’s Place. For example, the Sisters of Charity have awarded A Child’s Place $118,000 during a 3-year period; A Child’s Place received a Chevrolet 15-passenger van as a gift; the Executive Women’s Golf Association hosted a golf tournament that raised $14,000 for the program; and the Carolina Panthers (a professional football team) held a bowling and pizza party with the homeless children who attend A Child’s Place. Moreover, in 1997, the program’s annual fund campaign exceeded its goal.
Among U.S. programs for homeless students, A Child’s Place (ACP) is a “jewel box,” a beautifully and carefully crafted effort that truly helps children and families that pass through its doors; yet, ultimately it cannot resolve the educational crises these children face and it cannot address the structural foundations of their homelessness (Dewees and Klees 1995:93; Mickelson and Yon 1995). The story of ACP is a useful illustration of two important points. First, when resources are available, interagency collaborations with public school systems can make powerfully positive interventions in homeless students’ lives. Second, despite even the best of programs, the structural conditions that create homelessness and its related human misery remain untouched by such programs.
The purpose of this chapter is to describe the evolution of A Child’s Place into an exemplary program for homeless children and their families. Although its origins and early period were difficult, ACP underwent many painful organizational changes and evolved into a highly regarded program. We will describe the three major phases of the program’s history. The story of the evolution of ACP is useful for understanding how educators and social services providers—without initial support from the institutions legally responsible for them—came to grips with the problem of increased numbers of homeless children who were not receiving appropriate education. In the late 1980s, although the McKinney Act was in place, no school officials complied with it until pressure from elite citizens and activist social workers forced the issue onto the public agenda.