ST. CLOUD (WJON News) - Officials estimate there are 361 homeless students in the St. Cloud Area School District, compared to 241 at this time last year.

That’s the disturbing takeaway from a presentation at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

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The law that governs homeless students and their needs during the school year is the McKinney-Vento Assistance Act. Once a student has been identified by district homeless liaisons as homeless, they stay on the record for the entire school year. Both school staff and community organizations can make referrals on behalf of students, or they can self-identify.

Photo by District 742
Photo by District 742

Jennifer Loch is the homeless liaison for the district. She says some of the students can be found scattered throughout the homeless shelters in St. Cloud.

15% of the families and youth identified as homeless so far this year are living in one of these shelters: The Salvation Army, Place of Hope, Place of Hope West, Anna Marie's Alliance, 180 degrees, and the Youth House.

Loch told the board about the partnerships necessary to help homeless students.

We have a strong relationship with the shelters in our community and have streamlined the process to assist our families with accessing resources and reducing the time spent homeless. Some of the local businesses that have provided tremendous support to our program and families include Once Upon a Child, Royal Tire, Andy's Towing, RBC, and the St. Augusta Legion. The St. Cloud Police Department has repeatedly donated large quantities of new coats and boots. We’ve received donations of school supplies from HRA, Beaver Island Brewing, Great River Federal Credit Union, and United Way in partnership with Impact.

Photo by District 742
Photo by District 742

Transitional Education Liaison Rebecca Groenewold says homelessness can take several forms including shared housing arrangements, motels, vehicles, shelters, and couch-hopping with friends. She says 11% of the students identified as homeless in the district are classified as unaccompanied minors, or students not living with a custodial parent or guardian. In those situations, school sometimes takes a backseat to survival.

Food is an ongoing issue for many of our families. Several do not have the capacity to store food, especially fresh items, and may only have access to microwaves to prepare meals. Utilizing food shelves is often an all-day endeavor. Education takes a backseat to surviving daily life.

The district is on pace to identify over 700 students who are homeless at some point during the school year.

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