Keyword for this page: Hearth or Homeless

To find out which HEARTH staff member is assigned to your school, click here: HEARTH Staff School Assignments


Homeless Education Advocates Restoring The Hope

HEARTH Artwork

The HEARTH Project and Polk County Public Schools are dedicated to assisting homeless and in-transition families and children by eliminating barriers to school enrollment, attendance, stability, and overall academic success. We work to ensure that children experiencing homelessness have the same opportunities for educational success as housed students in Polk County.

Collection Drive for Seniors

Collection Drive for Homeless Students

Official Collecton Dates: Saturday, March 17 - Sunday, April 1

Click here for more information




The Mission of Polk County Public Schools is to provide a high quality education for all students.

Name: Title: Phone:
Dee Dee Wright Homeless Liaison 534-0755
Amy Beascoechea Technician 534-0801
Karen Mehler Homeless Advocate 534-0629
Ben Ruch Homeless Advocate 534-7254
Nakita Scott School Social Worker 534-0202
Jessica Victory College Clerk  

To find out which HEARTH staff member is assigned to your school, click here: HEARTH Staff School Assignments

Physical Address:
1915 South Floral Avenue, Bartow, FL 33830
Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 391, Bartow, FL 33830
Courier Route:

McKinney-Vento Act

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is a federal law which provides educational support for students who are experiencing homelessness. Children in housing transition have certain rights under this Act, including the right to immediate enrollment in school and transportation to and from school of origin. Click on the links below to learn more.

Under the McKinney-Vento Act, certain living situations are considered to be homeless that may not typically be recognized as homeless situations. This includes: living doubled up with one or more families due to financial hardship or similar reason, living in an inadequate mobile home or trailer park, living in transitional housing and living temporarily in a hotel due to various circumstances. See below for the homeless definition as provided directly from the Act.

(Every Student Succeeds Act: Title VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11431 et seq.))

The term “homeless children and youth” -

  • (A) means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence (within the meaning of section 103(a)(1)); and
  • (B) includes -
    • (i) children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals;
    • (ii) children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings (within the meaning of section 103(a)(2)(C));
    • (iii) children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and
    • (iv) migratory children (as such term is defined in section 1309 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965) who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii).

For additional informationWho is Homeless?

Under the McKinney-Vento Act, students experiencing homelessness have these rights:

School Selection

Students experiencing homelessness have two school enrollment options— the school of origin or the zoned school in their new location. The school of origin is the school that the student last attended before losing housing. Students who are in homeless situations must remain in their school of origin unless it is against the wishes of the parents or guardians, and only if it is in the best interest of the student. Students may remain in their school of origin the entire time they are experiencing homelessness and until the end of any academic year in which they move into permanent housing.


School districts must immediately enroll students who are in homeless situations, even if they do not have required documents, including school records, medical records and proof of residency. It is encouraged to provide these documents in the days after the student is enrolled and attending school. For assistance with obtaining such documentation, please contact the HEARTH staff at 863-534-0801.


At a parent or guardian's request, students who are experiencing homelessness must be provided with transportation to and from their school of origin, to the extent feasible. Feasibility is determined by considering the best interest of the student.

Free Meals

Students who are experiencing homelessness automatically qualify for free meals. Immediate eligibility is granted— no formal application is necessary.

Dispute Resolution

Whenever a dispute arises, the student must be admitted immediately to the requested school (school of origin OR zoned school) while the dispute is being resolved. When a determination has been made, the LEA must provide the parent or guardian with a written explanation of its school placement decision and the right to appeal.

Information for Schools

HEARTH Staff School Assignments

What Shelter Directors Want Educators to Know

  • Many parents are afraid that their child(ren) will be taken away from them.
  • Homeless children are especially in need of help with social skills.
  • The reason many parents may not seem to be nurturing is that they do not know how to nurture.

What Homeless Parents Want Educators to Know

  • Children are embarrassed about being homeless.
  • Parents are dealing with many problems in addition to homelessness and their child’s care (e.g., spouse abuse, depression, no money).
  • Even parents who may seem distracted really care about their children (just as much as do parents who have permanent housing).
  • It is very stressful, difficult, and time consuming to have to organize transportation every day.
  • Most questions seem unnecessarily intrusive and they make parents feel uncomfortable (because the reasons for the questions are usually not clear to the parent).
  • Children (and parents) should not be asked about absences or length of stay in a program (because they do not want to discuss these things, and they may not know when relocation will be necessary).
  • Parents would prefer whatever special educational and developmental services children need “just be provided without blaming anyone or making a big issue of the problem.”
  • Requests for children to bring baked goods or other goodies and school supplies often constitute a great hardship for families.
  • Being homeless does not necessarily mean that a family is dysfunctional.

What Educators Who Have Dealt With Homeless Children Want Other Educators to Know

  • Homeless children are more similar to their peers than they are different. The same basic good teaching practices and activities are generally effective with these youngsters.
  • Peer friendships have to be actively encouraged. Do not assume that they will occur naturally.
  • Play is particularly important. These children typically have no time or place for play when they are not at school.
  • Homeless children (like their peers) need a feeling of being competent and in control. Provide appropriate choices and challenges in a maximum supportive atmosphere.
  • Stress is unavoidable when you are homeless. Some children may seem to be coping but none are impervious to the stresses that being homeless places on the family.
  • Even the most basic health and safety concerns may seem overwhelming to already stressed parents. Be patient and sensitive to the families.

Source: Orange County Public School

HEARTH Project Brochure

  • Information about the McKinney-Vento Act, the Hearth Project and potential services available

Given to Parents:


Useful Websites:

For community resource listings, please visit:

National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth

This website contains information regarding the education for homeless children and youth especially for professionals who facilitate and advocate for that population for students.

National Center for Homeless Education

This website provides research, resources, and information enabling communities to address the educational needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness

SchoolHouse Connection

This website provides strategic advocacy and technical assistance in partnership with early childhood programs, schools, institutions of higher education, service providers, families, and youth.

National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty

Information about legislation, policies and advocacy is included in this website.

Florida Department of Education - Homeless Education

This is the website for the Florida Department of Education’s Homeless Education program. Here you can find additional resources and data regarding homeless education.

More Information on the Law:

School Employees:


Information for Parents/Youth

​Look through the contents of our parent information on your child's rights, our program and resources to help you and your family.

Information for the Community

Wish List

Currently we have a great need for the following items:

If you have any items to contribute to help fulfill our wish list, please contact the Hearth Project at (863) 534-0801. Thank you!


If you are interested in tutoring, mentoring or volunteering with our program in another way at a PCPS school, please visit this website for additional information:

Volunteer Opportunities with PCSB

How You Can Help

How You Can Help

How Your Contribution Makes a Difference

Giving a monetary donation is one of the best ways to help the students in our program. With these donations, we are able to purchase grocery gift cards, bus passes, gas cards, hygiene kits, and provide assistance that will allow a kindergartener to attend a field trip with her friends or purchase a senior’s cap and gown for graduation.

If you would like to make a monetary donation, please send checks payable to the Polk Education Foundation with “Hearth Project” noted. Donations can be mailed to the Hearth Project at P.O. Box 391, Bartow, FL 33831.

You can also donate online through the PEF website by going to:

Polk Education Foundation Website

Click on the icon “Donate Money” and type “Hearth” in the “Specific Program” information box. All monetary donations will generate a thank you letter with the Foundations 501 (c )(3) determination for tax purposes.

This community guide is meant for anyone and everyone who is interested in learning about our program, the issues facing homeless students and how you can help. Click on the links below to access the contents of our community guide.

The Hearth Project would like to thank all of our community partners for their continuous support!!!


Shelter Listing

Shelter: Phone:
Lighthouse Ministries 863-687-4076
Lake Wales Care Center 863-676-6678
Peace River Center 863-413-2700
Salvation Army- Lakeland 863-940-9696
Salvation Army - Winter Haven 863-291- 5107
The Way 863-422-2309
Women's Care Center 863-534-3844
Youth and Family Alternatives 863-595-0220

Special Thanks to Orange County Public Schools Homeless Education Program for their collaborative efforts in updating our webpage.