School districts work on ways to help out homeless students

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Area organizations are seeking ways to provide shelter and resources for more than 290 students identified as homeless in Kalispell and Evergreen school districts.

There may be more, based on free and reduced lunch numbers, which is one way of identifying possible homeless students.

Superintendent Darlene Schottle said 53 percent of students were eligible for free and reduced lunch in Kalispell Public Schools this year.

Students do not have to be living on the street to be considered homeless. They may be living with different relatives or friends day-to-day. Students are identified as homeless when they lack a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence,” according to Schottle.

To target and find resources for this student population, Ronda Stevens was hired in February as a homeless liaison for Kalispell and Evergreen school districts. Stevens may be contacted at 751-3630 or by email at stevensr@sd5.k12.mt.us.

Her position is funded through the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act grant and Title I program.

Chris Bilant, Kalispell Public Schools federal projects director, said this amount varies depending on the number of homeless students reported to the Office of Public Instruction. The district has yet to calculate next year’s budget for the part time position, but from last February through January, a total of $13,929 was budgeted.

Stevens works directly with students and families to help them obtain services and resources.

“The role of the liaison is to be an advocate for the student and ensure that the rights of the student are upheld according to the McKinney-Vento Act while fulfilling a responsibility for the school district,” Stevens said.

Accurately identifying homeless families and students is a challenge, Stevens said. “Once a family is suspected or known to be homeless or in transition, I contact them and make arrangements to meet with them wherever and whenever it is best for them. Urgency is usually important, so I make whatever arrangements possible to expedite the meeting,” Stevens said.

Using free and reduced eligibility numbers alone may not net perfect results and she encourages people to come forward if they need help.

“Confidentiality is the number one consideration and I make sure they understand that,” Stevens said.

“Building relationships with the community resources is very important also,” Stevens said. “It is important that they know I am here and understand my role so they feel confident in contacting me with the names of any family or child that they find to be homeless.”  

Stevens will join area organizations, churches and community members at a 4 p.m. meeting Thursday, June 13, at the Samaritan House Administration Center at 1110 2nd St. W. in Kalispell to brainstorm solutions in providing safe, temporary shelter for children under 18.

There are few options when it comes to housing homeless youths. Local youth homes have a limited capacity and shelters such as the Samaritan House only serve children under 18 when accompanied by an adult.

One of the meeting organizers, Flathead High School parent Marcia Bumke, has provided temporary housing to homeless children and understands the need. Bumke said the goal of the meeting is to work on creating shelter options for children.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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