‘We can’t help if we don’t know’

Trenton Hicks, 7, has lived at the Nampa Family Shelter with his mother since January.

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As the number of homeless students in Canyon County continues to grow, school leaders struggle to identify them all so they can be helped.

In the Vallivue District, for example, 322 enrolled students have been reported this school year as homeless or without permanent residence. That figure, said Vallivue homeless liaison Rose Culley, does not reflect the real number of homeless.

“Families don’t want us to know if they’re in that kind of situation,” Culley said. “The message we’re putting out is to please let us know because we can’t help you if we don’t know.”  

Culley said in the case of high school students living with friends because of economic hardships, the fear could be that child services will get involved if their situation is reported. Of the 322 Vallivue students reported as homeless, 273 are “doubled up,” or living with relatives or friends.  

But Culley said the information about students’ homeless status is confidential.  

“If you tell us, we’re tying to help you, not hurt you,” Culley said.

In Caldwell, 216 students are currently identified as homeless, Caldwell Schools homeless liaison Dawn Jensen said. But 265 have been identified through the course of the school year.

“I would guess we’re pretty under-identified,” Jensen said.

Still the identified number of homeless students has grown in both districts.

Vallivue had only 44 students identified as homeless in 2005. That figure grew to more than 100 in 2009 and more than 200 in 2010.

In Caldwell the number of homeless students was 57 in 2008 and grew to more than 200 last school year.

Nampa Schools report a homeless rate this month of 1,037 students.


Canyon County’s three major school districts have staff who work to help students cope with homelessness.

Culley provides a variety of services for Vallivue’s homeless students. She keeps up with their grades and attendance and makes sure their transportation needs are met. Parents can even get payments for mileage for school transportation, Culley said. She makes sure homeless students know they are eligible for free school lunches.

As with other school homeless liaisons, Culley coordinates with outside services to assist the families of homeless students to find health care and housing.

In Vallivue, school officials provide busing for some homeless students who move outside the district, Jensen said. The district also has money to buy school supplies and clothes for homeless students, and it has a backpack program that sends students home with food on Fridays.

Jensen also trains school staff to identify homeless students.

Nampa School District counseling coordinator Mary Dowski said her district’s students who are classified as homeless because they live “doubled up” often have a difficult time coping. They must deal with the stigma of being homeless, while also carrying the worries of their parents, she said, and they often have a difficult time focusing on school.

“We try to teach them resiliency, to take one day at a time,” Dowski said.

For more on the Homeless, not Hopeless special report visit: idahopress.com/homeless

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