Project UP-START Helps Students and Their Families With Adequate Housing, Transportation and More

Since 2008, Project UP-START has been helping students’ families living in unstable housing situations find a safe place to live and do homework in order to succeed in the classroom. But the program goes beyond helping with housing by offering families help with food, clothing and school supplies and transportation to school, as well as tutoring for these students in order to improve their academic achievement.

CentralLast year, the Project UP-START Program, under the Department of Title I Administration, identified and helped over 11,000 students living in unstable housing situations, such as living in a shelter, in a car or motel, in a public space, a campground, or sharing housing because of losing their home. During the current school year, more than 6,500 students have been identified as of January 2024. The program’s staff serve as liaisons to help families who qualify to get emergency shelter referrals and rental assistance through Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust.

For those families registered with the program, there are three Project UP-START centers within Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) - North Region Office in Hialeah, Lindsey Hopkins Technical College in Miami, and the Center for International Education in Homestead. These centers assist families with clothing, shoes, food as well as health care, and other referral services through M-DCPS community partners.

A new additional center, the Project UP-START Pilot Satellite Family Resource Center at Toussaint L’Ouveture Elementary School in Little Haiti, takes aid to families even further, offering the same services and beyond. This center offers families the opportunity to use a shower on the premises, an important resource for families whose living situation is uncertain from day to day. So far, the center, which opened in November of 2023 has helped over 100 families. Anyone using this new resource center’s resources must be registered with Project UP-START.

“This center has been a tremendous help for my son and me. They have provided food and uniforms,” said Evenise Pierre, whose family is registered with Project UP-START and whose son is a second grader at Toussaint. “The school supplies from Project Upstart allowed my son to actively participate in the classroom and he is encouraged by a feeling of being a part of things. This support reminded us that we’re not alone.”

Project UP-START also helps to ensure that these children are enrolled in school and have transportation. Additionally, the program supports them academically by dispatching 21 M-DCPS teachers to nine shelter locations every day to provide tutorial services to students, so they don’t fall behind and stay on grade level along with their peers. M-DCPS even has two Head Start Early Childhood Education Centers at two of the shelters.

Mandarin Lakes K-8 Academy is located just a block away from the Chapman South shelter where approximately 150 of its students live. Project UP-START sends teachers to tutor the students at the shelter.

“We have students not just living in the shelter, there are students that are living in cars or hotels,” said Mandarin Lakes K-8 Center Principal Calondria E. Williams. “We encourage them to stay with us after school so they can get extra help from their teacher or go into the computer lab to work on their assignments.“

Project UP-START staff also meets with high school seniors and social workers one-on-one to review their grades, advise them on how to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) applications, and provide information regarding the availability of scholarships. Students with a verification letter can even request a tuition waiver for their first semester of college following their graduation.

They offer high school students on a budget the opportunity to participate in their senior celebrations with initiatives like the Prom Boutique, a store at the Lindsay Hopkins location where students can pick out dresses and tuxedos so they can attend their senior prom looking their best.

For the Project UP-START students heading off to college, there is an annual “suitcase initiative” where students are provided with duffel bags that contain a laptop, desk lamps, towels, pillows, and new essential items that will make their transition to college easier.

“It’s so worth it when you see the smile on their faces when they see what we provide with those donations,” said Pedro Arteaga, District Director for M-DCPS’ Title I Support Programs.

For more information on Project UP-START or to know how you can qualify for their services, visit