Here are some quick answers to the questions we receive the most about School on Wheels of Massachusetts (SOWMA).

Q. Why does SOWMA always refer to the students as "impacted by homelessness?"

A: We avoid using the term “homeless children” for two reasons. First, the word “homeless” should not identify who a person is. The children we serve are living in temporary homes such as shelters, motels, and transitional apartments. Our students have a roof over their heads but, they have no permanent place to call home.  Secondly, we continue to work with children when they move out of shelter into permanent housing. There is no time limit on how long a child can receive services.  When our students move, we move with them, and continue to support their education for as long as is needed. 

Q: Why are families living in motels?

A: Massachusetts is the only state which has laws that require that children experiencing homelessness have a place to live.  When the state family shelters are full, the  Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) places families in motels paid for by the state until a shelter space becomes available or the family can find other housing options. DHCD pays motels to house families experiencing homelessness. It is estimated there are 1,820 families being housed in motels throughout the state costing the state millions of dollars each year. The average stay for families in motels is 4-6 months. 

Q: What is it like living in a homeless shelter or motel?

A: Children living in shelter experience uncertainty and a lack of privacy that makes it difficult to concentrate on schoolwork. They live in crowded, noisy environments and are exposed to sickness more than their housed peers. In congregate shelters, families are given one room in which to sleep and keep their belongings. They share community bathrooms, kitchens, refrigerators, cabinets, laundry space, and recreational facilities.  Families placed in motels have one room with no cooking or recreational facilities. Motel families are forced to use community microwaves and small refrigerators in their rooms. Sadly, the parking lot of the motel serves as the playground for the children.  In both situations, it is hard for students to find a quiet place to do their homework and stay on track with their education.  (Learn more)

Q: How many high school students are homeless in Massachusetts?

A: In Massachusetts, it is estimated that there are over 13,000 high school students impacted by homelessness. These numbers are underreported as many students are unaccompanied and do not reveal themselves as homeless since they are “couch surfing” and temporarily living with a friend or relative.

Q: What does unaccompanied youth mean?

A: An unaccompanied youth is defined as a person 24 years or younger who is not in the physical custody or care of a parent or legal guardian and who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. Unaccompanied youth include: youth who have fled unsafe home situations, youth who have aged out of foster care, and youth who have been kicked out of their homes.  Unaccompanied youth often live in shelters, cars, parks, abandoned buildings, “couch surf” by living with various friends and family members, or live in rented rooms and apartments financed on their own.

Q: Where does SOWMA get their backpacks and school supplies to give to children?
A: SOWMA partners with W.B. Mason which provides most of the school supplies for our backpacks. We also receive donations from civic groups, such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Rotary Clubs, places of worship, businesses, schools, individuals, and bar/bat mitzvahs students. View a complete list of backpack contents.

Q: What is like to be a tutor?

A: We provide high quality educational training and on-going workshops throughout the year to help our volunteers lead a successful tutoring session with their student.  We pair tutors with the same student each week so they have the opportunity to build a relationship and provide mentoring as well as tutoring. Tutors are supported by our School on Wheels Site Coordinators who oversee each program site. Site Coordinators are trained educators who have received specific training to support the one-on-one tutoring program. Each tutoring site has a learning resource center equipped with computers, educational activities and resources based on the Massachusetts Core Standards, and extra school supplies.  Learn more about becoming a tutor/mentor.

Q: I want to help SOWMA, but I can't commit to tutoring. What else can I do to support children in my community impacted by homelessness?

A: We are looking for volunteers to help us with preparing our backpacks, organizing our book donations, inventorying our school supplies, and assisting with community events and other fundraisers. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information about getting involved with SOWMA.

Q: How can I find out more about homelessness?

A: View a list of resources about homelessness in Massachusetts and around the country.

Q: How many School on Wheels programs are there in the country?

A: There are a total of three School on Wheels programs in the United States. Agnes Stevens, the original founder, started the first School on Wheels program in Los Angeles, California in 1993. Sally Bindley started a School on Wheels program in Indianapolis, Indiana in 2001. Cheryl Opper started School on Wheels of Massachusetts in 2004. All three programs operate independently but share the same vision to help children move beyond their circumstances of homelessness through a quality education.

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School on Wheels - MA
100 Laurel Street
Suite 121
East Bridgewater, Massachusetts 02333


Federal Tax ID 20-1020880