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New Inova initiative raises awareness of homeless youth

photoStacey Bess, an inspirational educator and author speaks about homeless children Oct. 9 at the National Conference Center. Bess was a speaker hosted by Inova Loudoun Hospital as they promoted an intiative to help fight homeless youth in Loudoun County. Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Andrew Sharbel

Inova Loudoun Hospital’s Chaplaincy Services and Community Affairs hosted a luncheon at the National Conference Center Oct. 6 to raise awareness about homeless and precariously housed children in Loudoun County.

Special guest speaker Stacey Bess, an educator and author, told the crowd her story of teaching homeless children in a small shed known as The School with No Name in Salt Lake City.

The event was also an opportunity to promote a new program from Inova Loudoun called Mobile Hope that was launched in September.

According to the website, Mobile Hope supports the needs of homeless or precariously housed youth in Loudoun County by using Inova Loudoun Hospital’s Mobile Health Unit team.

As one of the richest counties in the country, it is easy to assume Loudoun does not have homeless youth. Recently 658 young students were identified as homeless or precariously housed by Loudoun County Public Schools. Nearly 40 percent of these young people do not have a guardian or parent in their lives. They sleep in cars, in the woods, in abandoned warehouses or “couch surf” among their friends.

Mobile Hope is acting to establish partnerships with Loudoun County Public Schools, churches, police, government officials, health officials and community leaders to create ways for these kids to access essentials including food, clothes, hygiene products, school supplies and medical care.

In addition to Bess’s speech, Loudoun County’s not-for-profit organizations were present to answer questions and give more information on ways to help.

Bess began her speech by telling the story of her first job, fresh out of college and the learning experiences that came with it.

“My first day I had trouble understanding where these children were coming from because I had never experienced poverty before,” Bess said.

One of the more powerful messages, Bess tells her teachers and was told to her by one of her children, is “if you listen more, you will learn more.”

Bess closed her speech with a strong message.

“There are children everywhere who are struggling and need us and you are all in a position to change the lives of homeless children in your county,” Bess said. “Always remember, however, if there is a documented amount of 600 homeless children, then there are probably 900.”


The numbers used in this article are alarming for any community and certainly require closer scrutiny.  A clear explanation of the purpose and definitions of the McKinney-Vento Law, (which is what the hospital is using to arrive at these figures), needs to be provided in order to clarify the meaning of the 600 “homeless” children and another 600 “precariously housed” children.  The original numbers from the hospital included the “precariously housed” category as well, though the comment in the above article now combines both categories into 658 children.

McKinney-Vento was established to require school districts to provide those services, not to create another category of homelessness as we usually understand the term. 

Children who are living with relatives, children in foster care, children placed in youth shelters or group homes by the courts are not “homeless” as we would normally consider the term, but, according to McKinney-Vento, require transportation and services from their home school because they may be living beyond the boundaries of that school.

Hospital staff have an obligation to report to Child Protective Services, and to the police, specific instances, locations and situations of children living in the woods, abandoned warehouses or cars if they have knowledge of such situations.  The question has to be asked whether anyone from the Inova program has verified the anecdotes used to back up these numbers because the anecdotes and the numbers may have created more confusion about who is and how many are actually “homeless” in Loudoun County.  Lack of specificity and careful diligence in using such data can lead to skepticism and doubt about the true need of the homeless families that do live among us and need services.  If there are 600 “homeless” children and another 600 “precariously housed” in Loudoun, the hospital has an obligation to engage the County government and non-profit agencies in identifying and locating these children if they truly are “homeless” and have no place to live and to do this before launching a major campaign and calling on the generosity of the entire community.

I contacted the Loudoun School system last year after reading a story in the post regarding this homeless youths. After 6 months of writing emails and calling different people within the school system, I gave up. I was trying to find out information and what I could do. Every time I was told the person I needed to talk to wasn’t around and that she would call me back. Never happened.

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