Kim McKnickle is the St. Johns County School District’s homeless liaison, responsible for managing the district’s ASSIST program. She’s currently in the process of planning the district’s annual Up Lift with ASSIST banquet, which support the needs of local children and their families.
What are your roles and responsibilities as homeless liaison for the district?
As the St. Johns County School District’s homeless liaison, I ensure that the rights and services guaranteed under the federal McKinney-Vento Act are implemented throughout the school district. I assist with school stabilization and/or enrollment, ensure students have access to all eligible programs and services and provide professional development to school personnel.
In addition, I promote awareness of the homeless situation in both schools and the community, solicit financial and supply support from community agencies and recruit mentors. We fundraise for school supplies, athletics, clothing, senior fees, basic family needs and other school fees.
You rarely hear us say “homeless” in our school district; we call our program ASSIST, which stands for Aid and Support for Students In Sudden Transition.
What don’t most people know about homelessness in St. Johns County?
First, they don’t think it’s happening in all our schools in St. Johns, and then they are shocked by the number. An inadequate stock of affordable housing, fluctuating unemployment rates, high health costs, inadequate shelters for families and natural disasters combined with shrinking public resources have resulted in a steady increase of the number of children experiencing homelessness. Last school year, nearly 900 students were identified as being homeless—lacking a fixed, regular, nighttime residence. They may be in a car, a tent, a hotel or doubled up with another family. Of these, 152 were also unaccompanied, meaning they are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian, making them vulnerable to a myriad of potential dangers. For these reasons, schools can often be the one place of stability, safety and support in the tumultuous lives of these students.
What are some of the projects you’re currently working on as the school year starts back up?
We are currently working on gathering donations of school supplies and backpacks from the community. We are having our annual Up Lift with ASSIST banquet Oct. 19 from 6 to 9 p.m. at First Coast Technical College. This is a banquet and silent auction to support the needs of the children and their families. Without community support, we would not have the supplies and funding to help with the needs of our homeless children. We never want our children not to participate in school activities, sports or extracurricular actives due to lack of income, and without the community support, we couldn’t provide the necessities to help them succeed.
How can people help support your mission?
Become a mentor; donate; support our banquet with auction items and attend the event; sponsor a family for the holidays; host a fundraiser; or have a drive for personal care products or food. Most of all, spread the word. We live in a wonderful county that seems to live in a bubble when it comes to knowing about our homeless. We need to fix the problem and end homelessness so that our at-risk children grow up to be healthy and productive adults.
What do you enjoy most about living on the First Coast?
My family and I have lived in six different states along the east coast, and by far Florida’s First Coast is home. We love the weather, the beach and being outdoors year-round. Even though it gets hot, at least we are not shoveling snow. The people on the First Coast are friendly and very supportive of all causes. They accept new people into the community with open arms, and we are blessed to call this home.
How do you enjoy spending your free time?
I love being with family and friends, laughing while enjoying the day. I work out at Pearson Fitness, which is a stress reliever from the day. Who does not enjoy the beaches, taking walks, looking for shark teeth and enjoying the water? I love being outside in nature, boating, hiking or exploring. When the weather is to hot or rainy, a good book is always on hand.