CALDWELL - An estimated 4,000 students in the Treasure Valley are considered homeless, which means they don't have a permanent place to live. Children are identified when parents register them for school and check off boxes identifying where they live, including with relatives, in a campground, or in a shelter.
Adriana Davis and her family were in transition for six months in Canyon County. When they were homeless Davis says she and her husband would try to make the situation seem exciting for their 6- and 8-year-olds.
"We would pretend we were going camping," said Davis. "It was hard on my children because it would rain on our tent so we would have to cover it with tarps. We had to sponge bath our children."
When they weren't living in a tent Davis says they stayed in a small travel trailer or in a motel. Davis says her kids' school never knew what was going on.
"They asked for an address and I gave them my sister-in-law's," said Davis.
It's a struggle school districts constantly face. Erin Gerry is a counselor at Van Buren Elementary School in Caldwell. She works under a federal grant aimed at helping homeless students in the public school system. The grant is called the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
"We have a form in the registration packet that helps me identify who may be homeless," says Gerry.
Gerry says out of about 700 students at Van Buren, 45 have been identified as homeless. She feels strongly there are more in the school. Students with parents like Davis who may be overwhelmed with their situation.
School Principal Melissa Langan says schools want to help and have the means to do it through federal and community support.
"There's no judgment," said Langan. "Everyone has a tough time."
Langan and Gerry say a common fear for parents is that child protective services will take their kids away if they find out they're homeless. That, they say, would only happen in the most extreme cases.
"If a student is living in a car or int a tent they still consider that shelter and would not remove them," said Gerry.
"They would just have to take the risk to trust us that we have their best interests at heart and we're hear to support them," said Langan.
Public schools like Van Buren Elementary have closets full of supplies for homeless students. Families can also get assistance with food, housing, transportation and health care.
Looking back, Davis says she wishes she had asked for help and put aside her feelings of embarrassment and fear. Thankfully her family is now doing well and living in a place of their own. She's urging anyone who is still finding their footing to reach out for assistance.
"Everybody's got a purpose of doing something and I felt like my purpose was to try and get people to speak out and ask for help who are homeless," said Davis. "Especially children."
There are several community organizations that help keep school's stocked with supplies for students in transition. 7 Cares Idaho Shares helps raise money for many of those nonprofits. It's coming up on Saturday, December 9, and it's a big way you can help.
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