Dec 7, 2011 2:58 PM by Phil Buck (KPAX News)

Missoula schools coping with homeless student issue

MISSOULA - The holidays can be a stressful time for all of us, and even more so for families that have nowhere to call home. The National Center on Family Homelessness reports that hundreds of thousands of American families become homeless each year, and many of them right here in Western Montana.

Missoula schools have their eye on the problem and have spent years trying to keep track of how many homeless families enroll their kids in the Missoula County Public School district. It's a tough job as families don't always report themselves as homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless.

"It's really hard on the kids," MCPS Executive Regional Director Heather Davis Schmidt explained.

She says the district has upwards of 475 families that are either homeless or at risk of homelessness, and while keeping track of homeless families can be a challenge, it's nothing compared to what the children in these families are up against.

"Instead of being focused on your academic work during the school day, you're worried about where you're going to sleep tonight. [When students] are outside of school [they] are worried about what food [they] are going to be able to access," Schmidt told us.

"Many of our students experiencing these situations...they might have access to food only while they are at school. And they might have access to a warm environment [only] when they're at school," Schmidt added.

The Missoula School District created a new position this year to help these kids stay on track, because while homeless families have a number of social services available for economic support, educators say that the academic support for their children has been lacking.

"This person's role is to really focus on the student's academic needs because really having a connection and a focus academically has not always been as smooth as we would like it to be," Schmidt told us.

Schmidt added that every school in the district has its own programs to help local homeless families and if you're interested in joining their effort to help those families in need, contact MCPS.


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