Community Responds to Homeless Youth Population

By KBJR News 1

February 11, 2013 Updated Feb 11, 2013 at 10:07 AM CDT

With the number of homeless children in Twin Ports schools poised to top last year's enrollment, our community is looking into what it can do to support these children and encourage their success.

When children don't have a home, consistency is often only found on school grounds.

"It's the one way of getting their needs met, and it's the one thing that's stable in their lives," says Jane Larson of the Human Development Center.

When home is a friend's couch, a car, or a shelter, Jane Larson of the Human Development Center says staying focused at school is a challenge.

"If our basic needs aren't being met, learning and those kind of things aren't happening, we're more concerned about just surviving."

Lack of sleep and hunger quickly form a road block to learning.

"The last thing kids should be worrying about is where am I going to get my next meal," says Veronica Gaidelis-Langer of Chum.

That's why this year, Superior started offering not two but all three meals to needy students.

"Once they get here they can eat breakfast first thing in the morning, and we provide lunch here too, and now we have started a meal program in the evening," says Nicki Wilson of Superior Public Schools.

Last year, 49% of Superior students received free or reduced meals.

Both districts have also implemented a food backpack program that ensures children have food on the weekends.

"There's just some substantial food items that would help kids that maybe don't have food in the home over the weekend," says Wilson.

When you're constantly moving to seek shelter, something as simple as getting to school is important to school officials like Duluth Schools homeless liaison Debbi Wagner.

"We don't want them transitioning and moving around, especially within our own community. We want them stable so they have a routine to their day."

So Duluth and Superior school buses go out of their way to pick kids up where ever needed.

Most of this is made possible by state and federal grants. Both the Superior and Duluth school districts are one of a handful in their states that get extra funding because of their steady homeless populations.

"Right now there are I believe nine districts in the state that receive federal money," says Wagner.

As these leaders do everything they can to get these children through school doors.

"They don't need to be home dealing with adult issues, they need to be here and let them be kids."

Kids that will hopefully graduate and find new beginnings.

Currently 500 students in Duluth, and 150 students in Superior are considered homeless, both increases from the year before.