D51 homeless program seeing fewer students

School District 51 identified fewer students as homeless this year, leading to changes in the district’s homeless student outreach program.

All U.S. school districts are required by federal law to set aside some funding to help homeless students stay in school and connect homeless families with local assistance. District 51’s Resources, Education and Advocacy for Children who are Homeless, or REACH, program fills that requirement with REACH advocates who identify and help homeless students in local schools.

The district employed three REACH advocates last year but cut back to two this year after the district’s homeless student population fell from 520 kids in May 2011 to 398 kids in May 2012. One advocate continues to be paid through Title I money and the other remaining advocate is now paid through a grant instead of general fund dollars. The grant pays for mandatory trainings for homeless advocates and tutoring at Chipeta and Dos Rios elementary schools as well. Last year, the grant paid for training, tutoring at six elementary schools, a small amount of school supplies for homeless students, and about $1,500 to help Grand Junction Parks and Recreation cover free participation for homeless students in city activity programs.

District 51 Prevention Coordinator Cathy Haller oversees the REACH program. She said she volunteered to cut the third advocate in 2012-13’s round of budget cuts after seeing homeless numbers drop.

“We tried to find if it was because numbers were really going down or if we were not identifying as many students,” Haller said.

She found between January 2011 and May 2012, 152 REACH students left the district altogether. Haller said she believes the district is still doing a good job of identifying homeless students by putting up fliers in schools, including application sheets in school registration packets, and staying in touch with local service entities. She attributes the drop to people moving into temporary situations to look for jobs here a few years ago when the national economy slowed, then moving on when the recovery didn’t hit Grand Junction as quickly as it did other cities.

“We had an influx of people who were for the first time seeking services. I think it’s our situationally homeless numbers that have changed. Our chronically homeless numbers haven’t changed,” Haller said.

Interim Director A.J. Johnson said numbers are up on the family side at Homeward Bound of the Grand Valley Homeless Shelter. He said he’s seen some new faces but the number of families familiar with the shelter aren’t tapering off.

Sister Karen Bland at Grand Valley Catholic Outreach said she is also seeing steady numbers of families seeking services. Bland said she saw an 11 percent increase year-over-year in July in people seeking services from Catholic Outreach. Some of those services, including the soup kitchen, impact the homeless but others, like rent and utility assistance, are more popular as well.

“Some people have found housing but there are a lot of people who have not,” Bland said.


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