MERIDIAN -- A thriving city in the Treasure Valley is decorated with fresh store fronts and new subdivisions. Overcome with rapid growth in recent years, the Meridian School District is Idaho's largest. Yet, behind the new subdivisions and store front facades, there's a hidden problem.
Parents Candice Drew and Angel Cortes have five kids in the Meridian School District. Three years ago, Angel was injured on the job and the family found themselves homeless.
You just never know. You can't plan for this. Nobody knows, okay well, tomorrow we are going to end up homeless, Cortes said.
More and more students in Idaho are going to sleep at night without a home to call their own. In 2012, the Idaho Department of Education identified 373 homeless students in the Meridian School District and 968 in the Boise School District. However, Boise employs 11 social workers, Meridian has only one. That leaves Molly Smith, Meridian's sole social worker, with roughly four times the amount of students to look after.
Smith said it can be difficult to look over that many students and that having families in one living situation and then move to another one, and then move to a hotel or to a shelter is really common actually.
By law, Idaho's school districts must provide certain things for homeless students. It's called the McKinney-Vento law.
Smith said since there are no shelters in the Meridian School District, homeless families often move in with other family members outside the district. The school district is required to keep kids in school, even if it means providing transportation outside of those district lines.
Meridian passes out as much as $600 a week in gas cards but already ran out of this year's grant funding.
Abby White is a case worker with Charitable Assistance to Community's Housing, known as CATCH. The organization exclusively serves families with children through school referrals. She is the only CATCH case worker stationed inside a school district office in Meridian.
When families are experiencing homelessness they really don't have an option. So one of the goals of this partnership is to keep the kids in school and not disrupt their learning and their lives, said White.
White and CATCH worked with parents Drew and Cortes to move their family into a place of their own at the end of October.
Greg Morris is the executive director of CATCH Inc. Through federal dollars and community donations, his goal is to get the families out of shelters as fast as they can by providing housing and those crucial things they need to fill their homes.
The general public does not know that there is this many homeless youth, said Morris. Children are pretty resilient, but the longer they stay in a shelter in that sort of state of survival mode it becomes harder and harder for children to perform well in school and have regular attendance.
Morris said 85 percent of families are able to pay their own rent after six months of rental assistance and case management support. But CATCH can only serve six families in Meridian at a time due to limited funding, which means there are still hundreds of students living homeless every night.
We really have to get the whole community behind a project like this, Morris said.
After more than a year of moving their family from one place to another -- often split apart -- Drew and Cortes are finally together under one roof again, ready to live a normal life together.
Thanks to CATCH Inc. we are able to have a place to call home, Cortes said. My children have a place to come home. They can sit down with their parents and their siblings and have a good dinner.