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Grow Awareness: Students Are Homeless

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November 14, 2011: In your neighborhood—temperatures in the teens; young people in the school district seek shelter. KPBSD has a primary mission—educate young people. See in your mind’s eye the challenges that face a child or teen who is homeless, seeking basic shelter and human necessities. Imagine a parent or guardian who is desperate to provide for his or her children, and cannot. What resources are available in our communities on the Kenai Peninsula to aid the 121 students who are currently enrolled in the KPBSD Students In Transition Program? How might you grow awareness of the very real and chilling invisibility factor of students in our school district who are without the basic necessities of a stable, safe, adequate, permanent place to sleep at night? The number of students is growing, and will likely meet or surpass the 301 students enrolled in the program during the 2010-2011 school year.

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“Make tracks”  

Eighty plus teens, educators, parents, and concerned community members heard these words at the November 10, Candlelight Vigil for Homeless Youth at Farnsworth Park in Soldotna, Alaska: “Either make tracks, or follow someone else. Do one thing.” For one hour thick socks inside insulated boots, hats, and mittens could not keep the ground chill from spreading though extremities. Speakers shared stories bringing a sobering perspective. People listened, looked down, and around, spoke softly, and inwardly questioned, “What’s the one thing I can do?” The dozens and dozens of candles cupped in holders provided by Covenant House in Anchorage illumined this sentiment of care and compassion in the quiet, reflective faces of all ages. Hope was seeded in minds and hearts on a starry, starry November night, while standing still in a blanket of fresh snow.

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Kelly King, one of two Kenai Peninsula Borough School District homeless liaisons spoke eloquently, reminding everyone, “Students are homeless for a variety of reasons. Each family and student has their own story and their own experience. Some leave homes that are not safe, other students are abandoned. The reasons are varied, and differ drastically from one another.” King provided disheartening numbers: 121 students are currently enrolled in the program, of which 93 are in the Central Peninsula and Seward area, and 28 are in the Homer to Ninilchik communities. Thirty-five are unaccompanied youth. The Students in Transition Program goal is to provide consistent, uninterrupted education so that students can succeed in school.

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Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche shared his commitment to provide a center for teens. He asked everyone to “do one thing to encourage homeless youth that may be struggling.”

Forrest Vest, a senior at Kenai Central High School was the recipient of the 2010 Scholarship of Hope. Vest shared his story of substance abuse, homelessness, and subsequent positive choices and support he received. His message to youth: “If you have a family to go home to—go home.” Vest seeded “The For Rest Fund” with his scholarship, offering his vision to build a shelter for teens who are homeless in the central Kenai Peninsula.

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Two local church pastors shared the efforts of their faith communities, including “The Way Cafe” located in Kenai where teens and children can receive a free, hot, nutritious meal each evening. One night 55 meals were served.

The evening concluded with organizers Debbie and Dave Michael thanking everyone for showing up. Dave is a teacher at a KPBSD school, and the Michaels are committed to starting an emergency youth shelter. Debbie invited people to talk about the vigil with family, friends, and co-workers. Her closing words were to “make tracks” in order to grow awareness of students and families who are homeless in our neighborhoods.

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About KPBSD Students In Transition Program 

Eligible families or youth are those who lack a stable, adequate, and permanent place to sleep at night. If you, or someone you know, are sleeping in a motel, a camper, a tent, couch-surfing, or living with friends or relatives until you can find or afford a place on your own then this program can help.

The Students in Transition program provides:
• An advocate to help students and families find the resources they need in the community for food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and permanent housing
• Free school lunches
• Immediate school enrollment
• Paperwork assistance to secure school documents
• Special academic support if needed
• Local referrals to other agencies

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If you are a student who is homeless, know a young person who is homeless, or want to learn more about the Students In Transition program, please  talk to your school principal, secretary, counselor or nurse, or contact your KPBSD local area liaison directly:
Central Peninsula and Seward: Kelly King, (907)714-8869, kking@kpbsd.k12.ak.us
Homer and Ninilchik area: Kelly Luck, (907)235-8130, kluck@kpbsd.k12.ak.us 

Thank you to Merrill Sikorski for the Candlelight Vigil for Homeless Students photographs.

Links 

 KPBSD Students In Transition Program    

Peninsula Clarion three-part series of articles:

 Clarion editorial, November 12, 2011   

The Covenant House  

 

 

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