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DOE administrator nationally recognized for providing education to homeless children

Homeless student
Chris Kindred for NPR

The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth named Toby Portner its state coordinator of the year at its annual conference.

Portner, an administrator for the state Department of Education, coordinated educators with homeless children in Hawaiʻi.

Portner established a team of full-time liaisons and social workers to help homeless children receive stable access to education. Her team drove to them directly to bring food and internet access when schools closed during the pandemic.

Portner explains the DOE’s definition of homeless is broader than the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's. The DOE defines children experiencing homelessness as, "Kids and families that are lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence."

This definition includes households who move between friends' and families' homes due to economic setbacks. Broadening the definition allows Portner's team to help more children.

"Majority of the kids that are identified statewide and also across the nation fall into that doubled up category. And this is not living with your sister because economically it’s more feasible or comfortable. This is staying with other people because you don’t have another alternative," Portner told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Portner won an award in the State Coordinator of the Year category. She says the recognition for her work inspires her to continue working for educational equity in the community.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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