DES MOINES, Iowa — For nearly 1,000 Des Moines students getting back from Thanksgiving break was more than a return to the classroom. It was perhaps a return to having a roof over their head.
Des Moines public school officials said the growing number of homeless students is soaring within the district and shows no signs of slowing down.
“We have 921 kids. I know when this was shared last week we were right at 900. We’ve increased by 21 kids in just over a week so we are on pace to smash any record that we have for the number of homeless students in our district,” said DMPS homeless liaison Lyn Marchant.
Marchant is the district’s homeless liaison and community school coordinator. She said each building has at least one homeless liaison that monitors students that may be homeless.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is a federal program that recognizes homelessness in schools as “students [who] are living on the streets, in a hotel, homeless shelter or living with a separate family member or friend.” Liaisons direct the students towards community resources and also access to the district’s many food pantries.
Marchant said some of the biggest needs are gift cards so the liaisons can take the students shopping for necessities like warm clothes and gas for their parents to keep them in school.
“We do have some families that could drive. Since we do have a bus driver shortage sometimes kids are on the bus an hour and a half one way to school so that’s a really long time when you are putting a baby on a bus that long. Supporting parents to make sure they have some gas money.”
The district recently received a support grant from principal financial for $100,000 to help support homeless students.