Homelessness in a small town may not be as visible as it is in a big city; however, it is still a problem and it is affecting students and families in the community. Officials at Blackfoot School District 55 are reminding those with school aged children (K-12) that help is available through the "McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvement Act," a program to keep kids in school with the supplies, transportation and meals that they need.
The McKinney-Vento Act is part of the "No Child Left Behind" Act passed by Congress in 2001 assuring that homeless students receive the same quality of education as anyone else.
"People don't realize there is a homeless problem within our district" said Vicki Johnson, Federal Programs Director for School District 55. "Homelessness can happen to anyone due to a number of reasons such as economic hardships or natural disasters.
"Pocatello is seeing a rise in homelessness due to the Charlotte Fire this summer and look what just happened back East; just think how many people will find themselves homeless," she added.
Johnson said the key definition of homelessness is "the lack of a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence" and that a wide variety of circumstances may classify a young person as homeless by the standards of the U.S. Department of Education. Such circumstances include:
-Sharing housing with friends or extended family due to loss of employment or other economic hardships.
-Living in motels, hotels, campgrounds, or trailer parks due to lack of adequate alternatives.
-Living in emergency or transitional shelters, abandoned in hospitals, or awaiting foster care placement.
-Sleeping in places not designed for sleeping such as cars, parks, public squares, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations.
-Children not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian, who may have left home on their own or have been kicked out no matter where they are staying.
With Idaho's poverty rate remaining high, Johnson said she expects that homelessness, while usually a temporary situation, will continue to affect students from time to time.
"We hope we can ease people's minds by letting them know that their kids, no matter what the situation is, can enroll in school and that we 'want' them in school," Johnson concluded.
Anyone needing homeless education assistance should contact a school principal or call Johnson at 208-785-8800.