“More than 13 million children in the United States live in poverty. That is 18 percent of all American children under the age of 18.”

“More than 13 million children in the United States live in poverty. That is 18 percent of all American children under the age of 18.” Then I heard Larry Blick, former Independence city manager, say, “Already this school year 516 students in the Independence School District have been classified as ‘homeless.’” I just knew that couldn’t be. Somebody must have mixed in statistics from Africa or Haiti. But Kathy Usher, head of the Salvation Army’s Crossroads Homeless Shelter seated next to me, said, “No, the data is unfortunately correct!”

Kathy later shared with me the shocking information that, in addition to homeless students, homeless households, of whom 41 percent are children, are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. During 2009, Crossroads provided services to 681 families who were provided not with just shelter and food, but also case management services, housing assistance, clothing, transportation, etc.

Crossroads has many success stories; tales of mothers and fathers finding employment, of pastors and congregations lending support, of once again parents being able to find a home, of being surprised and deeply grateful when their children were provided Christmas gifts from people they didn’t know and would never meet.

Kathy has many heartwarming stories of success but, with tears in her voice, asks, “But what about the many more qualified families that we had to turn away because there were no vacancies in the program? We gave them what resources we could, but they had to leave the Independence area and seek help elsewhere.”

When I spoke with Nancy Lewis, public relations director for the Independence School District, the initial figure of 516 homeless students was given added perspective. While even one homeless student is too many, the huge number represents all who met the criteria which, in most cases, may have been for only a day or a short period of time. Of the present 330 in all grades, about 78 percent are “double-ups;” meaning staying with extended family members or friends. Only around 7 percent are placed temporarily in motels, usually with their family, 2 percent are from Hope House escaping from domestic violence, 4.5 percent from homeless shelters (of which Crossroads is the only one in Eastern Jackson County), and 3 percent from families in transitional living.

I was pleased to note that the Independence School District is very pro-active when it comes to student homelessness; supplying support well beyond what is required. They seek out and enroll homeless students, provide transportation to keep them in their “school of origin,” provide free school meals, a Board-appointed homeless coordinator, before and after-school program scholarships, mental health services, tutoring, school supplies, etc. Thirty-eight homeless seniors have graduated in the last two years.

Crossroads, the school district and Hope House can always use benevolent donations from churches, businesses, school and civic groups, and individuals to help with things like prom outfits, graduation announcements, gifts for holidays, and emergency funds to help with other student needs.