Kids who call a fifth-wheeler or the backseat of a car home are just a few of the challenges that homeless student coordinator Betsy Kelley is facing in the Williston Public School District.
"I thought after Vegas nothing could throw me," said Kelley, who was a teacher in the Las Vegas area for 15 years before taking the position in Williston last August. However, she's found plenty of new challenges in Williston, where the oil boom has brought dozens of homeless children to the area.
"Last year they ended with around 70 (homeless) students," said Kelley. "This year we have 126 (homeless) students. We have new kids moving in weekly."
These are some of the provisions that Williston homeless student coordinator Betsy Kelley keeps on hand to help the 126 homeless students in the district.
Kelley said some of the 126 are carryovers from last year, but many are new to the area. The large majority of the homeless children live with their families in fifth-wheel trailers parked in truck yards or other properties where there is no electricity and no running water.
"In the fall we had three (students) living in cars, said Kelley, though those families moved to alternative housing when winter hit. Now that summer is approaching there will likely be more students living in family cars.
As homeless student coordinator, Kelley helps students deal with problems so they are able to attend school. The school district helps kids with school clothing, school supplies and backpacks or hygiene kits. They provide laundry soap and quarters so families can wash their clothes at the laundromat or vouchers so they can get showers at a recreation facility. Kelley said she also keeps "snack packs" on hand to send home with kids on weekends.
"A lot of these kids the only food they get is at school," said Kelley. The snack packs contain snacks like beef jerky or applesauce.
Kelley said she also provides each homeless family with a thick packet of information about places in Williston where they can find different types of medical, mental health or housing assistance, among other services.
Kelley said she's only been forced to call Social Services twice this year to report possible neglect.
"We had one family that had way too many children living in a fifth-wheel," said Kelley, and another family couldn't quite seem to get it together. Kelley said only one or two homeless famiies appeared to her to be gaming the system, but the others are looking hard for work and doing their very best to get by. Many of the families have come to the area seeking work with just the clothes on their backs. Families are advised not to come to Williston unless they have housing lined up first, but many come anyway, not understanding how dire the housing shortage is.
Kelley said not all the families coming to the area find employment in the oil fields. Some find work at local groceries or the local Wal-Mart and are not able to afford the $3,000 per month in rent that is standard, even if there is housing available.
Kelley said the local social service agency is overwhelmed and wouldn't necessarily be able to put families in housing or provide other needed assistance.
The Department of Public Instruction announced Monday that it has grant funding available for school districts for the education of homeless children and youth. The grants are available under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. In addition, a portion of administrative funds are available to homeless agencies and shelters to provide services to homeless children and youth. These services may include, but are not limited to: after school programs, tutoring, transportation, counseling, and/or provision of school supplies.
Grant appications for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act must be received in the state Title I office no later than 5 p.m. on June 12. To obtain a grant application packet, contact Jacki Harasym, assistant director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 857-7770.