With the holidays approaching, thoughts usually turn to home and family—but what if you didn’t have a home and your family is scattered?
It’s a more common scenario in Arizona than you may realize and, regrettably, kids can be the most impacted.
In fact, in Tempe’s own Kyrene Elementary School District, the homeless count this year is between 400 and 450 students, according to Amanda Hamm, the district’s homeless program coordinator.
Each school district in the state has a homeless coordinator position, as a result of the Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2001.
In the school year 2011-2012, there were 31,683 homeless students enrolled in Arizona Schools, according to the Arizona Department of Education.
“The number of homeless children can fluctuate throughout the school year because families with unstable living arrangements may need to move several times,” said Hamm.
Thankfully the majority of those deemed homeless are not truly living on the streets, but rather “double-bunking,” a term Hamm uses to describe those families who find shelter with other family members or friends.
Kyrene schools follow federal definitions when it comes to determining who is considered to be a homeless child.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was first signed into law in 1987. It states that homeless children are those who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, such as families who are:
Sharing the residences of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason;
Living in motels, hotels, parks, cars, bus stations or similar settings because alternative adequate accommodations are unavailable; or
Living in emergency or transitional shelters.
If such tentative living arrangements sours and a distant move is necessary, the child may be required to enroll in another school district. The Arizona State Board of Education recognized this as a barrier and in 2002 implemented a transportation component to its funding for support services.
This means that if a Kyrene district student moves to Phoenix, the student can request bus service to be transported back to the “school of origin” within the same school term.
Another issue involves “unaccompanied youth,” in which a child is not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian due to running away or being abandoned. While the number is small in Kyrene, Hamm estimates that about xx students are in this predicament.
As required by law, the Kyrene School District fully integrates the homeless students, so their status is not apparent to fellow classmates.
Still, special services are available to eligible students, such as a free and/or reduced meal program and tutoring as well as donated boxes of clothes, hygiene products and canned goods from the Kyrene Family Resource Center, 1330 E. Dava Drive, on the campus of Kyrene de los Niños School.
Hamm agrees that two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 15-20 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and an increase in poverty, due to an increase in low-wage jobs.
In the Valley, the high rate of unemployment compounds the problem.
For families in the Kyrene district, Thanksgiving will be brighter due to support from “The Real Gift Foundation,” whose members will provide 250 food and hygiene boxes to needy families.
The mission and purpose of foundation is to “provide the necessary aid and assistance to children of homeless Arizona families, so that they may better handle the challenges their lives bring and to give them the ability to face the future with hope, anticipation and optimism.”
For more information visit the organization’s website at www.therealgift.org
To learn more about the Kyrene Family Resource Center, call 480-541-1520 or visit http://www.kyrenefoundation.org
Hamm says that, in anticipation of increased holiday services, food donations, particularly canned meat or canned fruit, are being encouraged.