Homelessness in schools

Lorie Wendel talks about her circumstances — and what it’s like sharing a single Twin Falls motel room for her family of four — while her 13-year-old son, Stanley Haney, plays a game Jan. 11 in the Old Towne Lodge. Of the 527 Twin Falls children identified as homeless as of May 2016, 77 percent were doubled up with another family. Eleven percent lived in motels, 10 percent in a shelter and 2 percent in a camper trailer, motor home or car.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS FILE

TWIN FALLS — The Twin Falls School District saw a drop in the number of homeless children in May, compared with the previous year.

When the Times-News in February published a two-part project about homeless students and Valley House Homeless Shelter, both the Twin Falls district and the state were seeing higher numbers of homeless students.

One reason: better efforts to identify families in need.

This May, Twin Falls’ numbers had dropped to 466 children — 393 of whom were in school, district spokeswoman Eva Craner said in mid-August. That’s 61 fewer children overall, compared with May 2016.

One reason for the decline could be the Twin Falls area’s low unemployment rate, hovering below 3 percent.

But among those who are homeless, a lack of affordable housing often plays a role, Craner said. Of Twin Falls’ homeless children last school year, 73 percent were doubled up in a residence.

That means multiple families are living under one roof due to economic hardships, said Bill Brulotte, federal programs director for the Twin Falls district. “That’s our No. 1 area of homelessness.”

Who qualifies as homeless? The definition — children who lack a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence” — is set by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which went into effect in 1987 and was reauthorized by Congress in 2015 under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

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At the beginning of each school year, Twin Falls families who’ve received homeless student services are re-interviewed to determine if they still qualify. That process was underway in mid-August.

Plus, parents with children enrolled in the school district are asked to fill out a questionnaire twice a year about their family’s living situation, such as where they stay at night.

JoAnn Gemar, at-risk services coordinator and homeless liaison for the Twin Falls School District, was already working with homeless families who had been identified to provide them with back-to-school supplies.

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