Guest Post: What Children Are These?

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As we close the season centered on a young family forced to take shelter in a manger, please reflect as well on the thousands of Montana children who experience homelessness every day.

In the 2015-2016 school year, at least 3,066 schoolchildren in Montana were homeless. Over 1,100 of them were not yet 10 years old – and the data doesn’t include children too young to be enrolled in school.  The majority of them “doubled up” with the families of friends or relatives, tightening the quarters for all. Roughly 20% of them stayed in hotels, motels, or rescue shelters. Another 8% called a car, garage, tent, or condemned building home.

However “not theirs” their homes were, at least they had the essential element of a home – a family unit. That was not the case for the many, many kids designated as “unaccompanied.” Typically older students with no family members in their lives, they find shelter where they can. One of our school staff in Great Falls took this picture of an “unaccompanied” student’s shelter last fall.

Be it ever so humble, this was home: a sleeping bag, a couple of blankets, an uncased pillow, and all his earthly belongings, including school notebooks, arranged on a shelf in a structure meant to support traffic, not transients.

Given the sub-zero temperatures this month, we hope this hapless camper has found a warmer place to land. But warmth is only one need to be met for homeless students. Physically, poor nutrition and environments put them at high risk for stunted growth, anemia, infectious disease, asthma, and lead poisoning, and they generally lack consistent access to healthcare. Emotionally, trauma, stress and constant change create a significantly higher incidence of mental illness, but less than 1/3 get professional help. Small wonder that they are also at high risk for academic difficulties. Weaker physically and emotionally and constantly moving, they’re harder to teach and harder to serve, and their test scores and grades show it.

Were it not for our public schools and the good works of Montana’s many community and faith-based organizations, these children would drift through our communities, largely unidentified and unserved. But one of the many things that our “big, bad, overreaching” federal government does is require that these students, like all students, get a free, appropriate public education. With that requirement comes funding, which Montana school districts can use to provide school supplies, transportation to the school homeless kids consider “theirs,” and staffing to ensure they’re identified and served.

The funding also allows school districts to provide clothing related to educational needs (coats and boots so they can go out for recess, an FFA jacket so they can be part of the club, gym shoes, etc.) and emergency supplies related to their ability to attend and succeed in school (e.g., underwear, socks, lice shampoo).

It makes a difference. This fall a homeless student long served by the Great Falls Public Schools began college. His scholarship included room and board. It’s the first time he’s ever had a place he could call home.

It’s not enough, of course.  The federal homelessness funding allocated to Montana last year amounted to a measly $68.77 per identified student –maybe two tankfuls of gas for those of us more fortunate. Our communities’ and churches’ rescue missions, clothing drives, and food banks stretched those dollars farther than they would otherwise go. But nobody who works on this issue believes that anything close to all of our homeless children have been identified. And all agree that what we are providing only scratches the surface of what these kids need.

What can you do about it? As a new administration enters Washington with the mentality that the federal government has no business in education and that any helping hand from the government thwarts children’s efforts to be self-sufficient, remind the powers that be that to pull yourself up about your bootstraps, you have to have boots.

If you haven’t donated to your local rescue mission, school foundation or church group serving the homeless, write a check before the year closes.

And as we turn from Christmas to the holiday celebrating strangers from afar bearing gifts, light a candle for a warmer, more generous world.  For too many children, “no room at the inn” isn’t seasonal. It’s a way of life.

Senator Mary Sheehy Moe (D – Great Falls) can be reached at [email protected] .

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About the author

Mary Sheehy Moe

Mary Sheehy Moe lives in Great Falls.

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BillM. H. PetersonJames ConnerptalbotSharo Recent comment authors
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Karen
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Karen

What a heartbreaking post. My heart goes out to these children in desperate need of the basic necessities and someone, anyone, to love them. Would the author care to name a few charities that work with homeless children where on could make a donation?

LK
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LK

Montana children?? Really? Are they really from Montana? And their families? I seriously doubt it, and I seriously doubt your numbers. But let’s assume they are correct. What can we do? Well first, we can stop attracting even more low wage workers to our state. For example, every damn one of those idiots in local government here in GF orgasms every time they brag that we are getting another Walmart here in town. So, what does that mean? It means that we will attract 300 more low wage part- TIME jobs! In other words, we will have even more families… Read more »

Mary Moe
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Mary Moe

Karen, two organizations in Great Falls where I know a donation will go directly to the homeless are:

Great Falls Rescue Mission, P.O. Box 129, Great Falls, MT 59403-0129
Great Falls Public Schools Foundation, P.O. Box 2429, Great Falls, MT 59403 (specify “homeless program”)

LK, the numbers are accurate, although they undoubtedly seriously under-report the problem. They come from OPI’s 2015-16 report on use of federal funds for the homeless.

LK
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LK

Mary, I actually give to the Rescue Mission. It is basically the only charity I give to because they have NO overhead. Every cent goes to help. (and they saved my butt one day when the bus station wouldn’t take a check. a guy from the mission made up the difference for my ticket. I’ve never forgotten that.) But the thing is, there are literally millions of homeless in this country. I don’t get out of the state much, but I did go to Portland a couple of summers ago and was amazed at the number of homeless people just… Read more »

Sharo
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The mission does have overhead; that does not make them bad! They do a good job, but they do pay their employees, as they should.
I would also like to mention Family Promise of Great Falls which serves homeless children and their families. We too have paid staff, but we also have about 700 volunteers in this generous community. And yes, we have too many homeless people in Great Falls. These stories are real. And these families are not the villains. The situation is complicated. But we must work together to make a difference.

LK
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LK

Sharo, you missed my point entirely. Firstly, ALL charities usually have about an eighty percent take right off the top for raising money. That is what I meant about no overhead. In other words, if you give a hundred dollars to the cancer society, eighty of that amount goes to the fundraisers. But if I give a hundred dollars to the Mission, it all goes TO the Mission. That is what I meant. And no, please do not misinterpret my words. I did not say that anyone was a villain. In a nation of some three hundred and thirty million… Read more »

Pete Talbot
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You need an outlet, Larry, but this site isn’t it. Mary had a sympathetic post on homelessness, with some constructive ideas on how to help people and you have to go all social Darwinist. And ramble much? Keep it short and concise or get your own freakin’ site. I’m tired of your rants.

LK
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LK

Seriously? I don’t have the right to express an opinion on a topic of great importance? Jesus. No wonder the left is drying up as we speak. For the record, I have worked extensively with the folks who are homeless and at the Mission. I know what I’m talking about. I didn’t get some stats from OPI. I would suggest that you don’t go all limp lizard on me. Regardless of what you think of the Skink, he too has been there. Bottom line? Just like all the altreich folks in the Lege, we all DO have a right, nay,… Read more »

LK
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LK

Pete, a peace offering. Things are so ugly now that I find myself spending more and more time in nature, and drinking more and more beer and whiskey in the evening.. I theenk I’ve become a Tarahumara! Or maybe just a Lung Gom Pa. But I also listen to more music in the evening. If you’ve not seen this, enjoy. THIS is the country that I have spent my entire life in. And I love it. The Montana songs are wonderful. Kick back, have a brewski and maybe a shot or two, and think about the Montana of our youth!… Read more »

James Conner
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One of Moe’s best posts. Anyone who reads it and sleeps well tonight doesn’t have a heart.

LK
Guest
LK

No James. THIS is Mary at her best. When she’s in fighting mode as all Montanans should.

http://mtcowgirl.com/2016/12/31/guest-post-vocabulary-lesson/

M. H. Peterson
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M. H. Peterson

Many people don’t want nor believe these kinds of posts, but welcome to the true America, land of the free……………………..to not help your neighbor. And as long as we allow the intitled 1% run our country into the ground this will continue. Let’s take the country back.

Bill
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Bill

And now Missoula has 49 new Soft Landing Refugees.

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