HARRISBURG, PA — The Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller this week announced the distribution of more than $400,000 in grant funding to shelters serving families experiencing homelessness, domestic violence survivors and their families, and others across Pennsylvania to improve internet access and support purchase of computer equipment for parents and children to use while staying at the shelter. This funding will allow parents at these centers to look for jobs, housing, and other necessary services and for children to participate in educational services and programming, especially as some schools continue to operate blended or virtual learning models.
“We live in an increasingly digital age, and as COVID-19 is requiring limited social interaction, greater barriers are created for families that do not have reliable access to technology. This can make it harder for parents to pursue employment, education and training, and other supportive services and for children to participate in virtual learning and stay on top of homework assignments,” said DHS Secretary Teresa Miller. “These grants will help families in difficult situations access technology and services necessary to break down barriers and continue looking towards the future.”
Fifty-nine family homeless, women’s, and domestic violence shelters in 28 counties received $420,375 in grant funding distributed by the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) to support the purchase of or improvements to internet and wireless access, computer equipment and supplies, and family engagement materials and activities for parents and children to use while in shelter. Centers awarded and funding totals is available here.
The lack of technology in homeless shelters can result in parents’, guardians’, and caregivers’ inability to search for and find permanent housing, apply for jobs, find medical care and access telehealth services, access other public assistance benefits and supportive services, and access email. Children staying at a shelter also have a critical need for internet access to participate in educational programming and complete homework, particularly due to schools operating on blended and virtual learning models due to COVID-19.
The Pennsylvania Early Childhood Homelessness Task Force recognized the significant lack of access to technology in family homeless shelters across the commonwealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, and raised these concerns to the attention of the Pennsylvania Head Start State Collaboration Office, which received approval to utilize Federal Preschool Development Grant Birth through 5 (PDG) funding in lieu of projects being halted due to COVID-19. The PDG funding was approved to offer grants up to $10,000 to family homeless shelters serving families with children under 5 years old.
The PDG is awarded to and is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). OCDEL is a dual deputate between PDE and DHS.
“Ensuring that all families have access to the tools and resources needed for learning during COVID-19 creates a sense of normalcy and engagement for children,” said PDE Acting Secretary Noe Ortega. “It is especially important that OCDEL and their partners target these resources to families who have the most need.”
The Pennsylvania Early Childhood Homelessness Task Force formed in 2018 to identify opportunities across the commonwealth to increase the number of young children living in shelters connected to early learning programs and provide support to both the early childhood education and family shelter communities.
For more information about early learning programs across Pennsylvania, visit www.raiseyourstar.org.
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