School district starts program to aid homeless

Homeless families with children in School District 51 have a new place to access services and donated items.

In January, the district’s Resources, Education, and Advocacy for Children who are Homeless (REACH) program opened a drop-in center in the west modular behind the Basil T. Knight Center at 596 N. Westgate Drive. The center is open from 7:30 a.m. to noon each Monday and Wednesday and from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The center offers access to donated clothing, blankets, backpacks and hygiene items, and families can visit with a REACH advocate about signing up for REACH and accessing services such as Colorado 211.

A Medicaid representative is available at the center on Wednesdays and Thursdays to help families enroll in the state health insurance program. A bilingual Medicaid volunteer is available on Thursdays.

District 51 Prevention Coordinator Cathy Haller, who oversees REACH, said the district decided to open the center to offer families greater access to REACH services. REACH advocates will continue to be available at schools, but Haller said having one place where parents could go during a 4 1/2-hour window four days a week offered greater flexibility for clients who could not easily schedule a specific time to meet at a school due to transportation issues, such as having to follow a bus schedule.

The center also makes it easier to disburse donated clothes and other items, Haller said. Before, those items were kept in storage and advocates handed out what they had in their cars at schools when they met with parents. Now the items are better organized and spread out for families to pick through.

“I can take care of a family’s needs immediately instead of searching for a size,” REACH Advocate Belinda Howery said.

Haller said only about eight families have visited the center since it opened Jan. 14, but she’s hoping more people will visit as the word gets out that the center is available. REACH lost 162 homeless students between January 2011 and May 2012 due to those students moving out of the district — a trend Haller attributes to parents finding jobs elsewhere or moving in with family out of town. The program still serves more than 300 students.


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