Flathead County Coverage

May 1, 2013 11:05 AM by Laura Wilson - KAJ News

Program helps Kalispell, Evergreen ID homeless students

KALISPELL - The homeless population among Kalispell and Evergreen students appears to be on the rise, at least that's what local teachers and administrators are observing.

"I think we've known for a long time that with the transient population, we get more students who are homeless," explained Evergreen Junior High School Principal Kim Anderson.

"Spring is always a huge issue as the weather gets warm. Landlords are allowed to kick people out because they haven't paid their rent. So we see an influx in the Spring of students being homeless," she added.

The problem hasn't been identifying these homeless students for educators, it's been identifying resources and help available for them in the community - that is until now.

The Kalispell and Evergreen school district were able to create a new Homeless Education Liaison position for District 5 and District 50 this past February, thanks to funding from the McKinney-Vento Act Grant.

"They can come to me and talk to me about their needs. We'll let them know what we can do to help them-like housing, food, and making sure that they know of all the resources that are out there for them," said Homeless Education Liaison Ronda Stevens.

"The need has been there and we tried to make do with what we had and do the best that we could. We did provide services for kids, but not at the level that we'll be able to do now," added Anderson.

Stevens pointed out that being homeless doesn't necessarily mean living on the streets.

"In the McKinney-Vento Act, they define ‘homeless' as a child that doesn't have a fixed, regular, or adequate nighttime residence. Between the two school districts, I'd say probably 300 [students] is right in that ballpark, and its growing.

You also don't have to be homeless to ask for help. In fact, teachers say the earlier you acknowledge you need the help, the more of it you'll be able to get.

"By us knowing, we can jump in faster. The two families that Ronda has worked with for us - she jumped in right away, so we never saw those families be homeless. That was the perfect scenario, but often that's not the case," Anderson told us.

"It's usually kids have been living in their cars or the heat has been shut off for a month, and then we find out," she continued.

"I look at kids who are struggling with home life stuff, and they're not attending school. And when they're at school, it's probably the least of their worries. If we can help sidetrack that homeless part, like we've already done with the two cases we've already worked with, it lets kids focus on why they're at school versus what they're going to go home to at night," Anderson concluded.

Administrators are continuing to work with community organizations to help support local children. Students, and parents of students in the district facing homelessness, are encouraged to use the free service.

Several homeless education liaison positions are already in place in other cities around the state, but this is the first one ever created in Kalispell.

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