There are hundreds of students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District who go to school every day, but might not know where they will be sleeping that night. The district runs a program called Students in Transition to help provide basic, everyday supplies for those kids.
Over the next few months we will be learning more about the affected students, the district’s program, and the communities on the Kenai Peninsula that offer assistance.
This issue is often described as “hidden” by district officials. Last year the KPBSD identified 262 kids as experiencing homelessness at some point during the school year. The Students in Transition, or SIT program’s sole focus is to make sure those students still make it to school every day and are learning. The program also can provide things like transportation, school supplies, tutoring or help with obtaining records like birth certificates.
The district’s homeless liaisons can assist with applications for housing, and finding consistent sources of food, shelter, and clothing. There are liaisons for both the central and southern peninsula who work within the communities.
But it isn’t just the district doing its part to help students without a consistent roof over their heads. Businesses and organizations throughout Kenai, Homer and Soldotna also lend a hand.
The Kenai Builder’s Association recently raised money to provide 22 gift cards for unaccompanied youth. Those are the students who are not living with a parent or legal guardian. Cabin Fever Creations donated quilts to kids in the program, and Homers Jeans recently donated hundreds of hats and pairs of socks to students to help get them through the winter.
The Way Café in Kenai and The Midtown Café in Homer both provide meals for homeless students. Homer’s United Methodist Church partnered with Midtown over the summer to feed teens. Pastor Lisa Talbott said at the time that was a natural choice because that’s where they hang out.
“We know that he has a place where teenagers feel comfortable going, because they’re not always going to feel comfortable going to a church,” she said.
Talbott used to work as a teacher in the Anchorage School District. She said attending school helps give kids some normalcy and a source of food when they aren’t sure where the next meal is coming from. The district can provide free breakfast and lunch during the week, but Talbott said for some students there’s still a gap.
“There’s no food on weekends, during the holidays or over the summer. So one of the things that we’re suggesting is maybe a backpack program where kids could pick up a backpack on their way home on Friday afternoon with enough food to get them through the weekend,” she said.
Talbott was working with the SIT program, but calls to the homeless liaison’s office were not returned in time for this story.