The Blaine school board gave a certificate of appreciation to the Family Service Center it houses on campus at their regular monthly meeting Monday night, and learned some disturbing facts about homeless students in Blaine.
The Blaine police department, represented by chief Mike Haslip and sergeant Ryan King, also received a certificate recognizing many years of close cooperation, but it was the number of homeless students reported by the service center’s Readiness to Learn coordinator Jessie Burton that raised the most eyebrows.
Burton said that she has identified and contacted 22 Blaine school students who are homeless under federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act guidelines in just the first month of the current school year.
“There were 82 kids who qualified as homeless for at least a part of last year (2008-2009) in the Blaine school district,” Burton added it up from about 70 the year before.“This does not necessarily mean that they have no place to stay, she said, “but that they are living in conditions that may change at any time.”
Burton said that last year’s total broke down into eight students living in shelters, 35 “doubled up” with family or friends sharing a single family house, eight “couch surfing,” technically unaccompanied youth (UAY) staying with a sequence of friends, and another 23 in temporary foster placements.
“There were unsheltered kids, too,” Burton said, “including a family living in a tent at Birch Bay State Park all last year. We also have families living in cars.”
The average length of time a student was homeless last year was about three months, although McKinney-Vento requires the school district to continue such benefits as free lunches for these students for the entire year.
Among other things, the law also guarantees the right to attend classes before transfer of school records, including proof of immunizations, and the right to be transported to the school even if circumstances require a move out of the district.
“Sometimes the only appropriate shelters are in Bellingham,” Burton said, “but we bus them back to Blaine for school as required.”
Family Service Center Coordinator Larissa Dhanani said 150 families have been given help with new school supplies so far this school year. “We depend heavily on donated items and services,” she said, “including laundry soap, gym clothes and so on.” She cited the Assistance League of Bellingham as one good resource.
Burton said that people wishing to donate needed items for homeless students can drop off good, sturdy used clothing at the center, located on the second floor of the middle school gym at 770 Mitchell Avenue across the street from the district administration building. For more information call the Family Service Center at 332-0740.