Culture Montana Politics

Guest Post: Taking a Stand for the 3,000 Students Experiencing Homelessness in Montana

by Zachary DeWolf , Director of Communications & Education at the Pride Foundation

Pride Foundation, along with co-hosts Empower MT and Poverello Center, organized the first-ever Montana Youth Homelessness Summit. Special guests included Governor Steve Bullock and the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) Superintendent Denise Juneau.

The summit’s focus was to support unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness and to build awareness of the factors leading to and the disproportionate impact of homelessness, with a special focus on youth of color, Native American youth, and LGBTQ youth.

Earlier this year, the Montana OPI reported that in 2010-2011, the state’s school districts identified a total of 1,487 students experiencing homelessness in their classrooms. That number skyrocketed to 3,000 students experiencing homelessness in the 2015-2016.

This shocking report, as well as the need to explore and coordinate the work that is already being done throughout the state—was the impetus for this week’s summit.

One possible explanation for increasing rates of youth homelessness is improved identification and reporting procedures within school districts and the state government. However, one thing remains clear—there are Montana youth experiencing homelessness in every community and there is a disproportionate impact on youth of color and LGBTQ youth.

A highlight during the summit was a panel of youth experiencing homelessness who shared powerful stories about the issues they’ve faced.

Christopher, a young man living in Helena, told participants that he implored his parents to see his true identity. They wouldn’t accept him as a man, and it was at that time they kicked him out of his home. It’s been a difficult journey for Chris to find supportive and stable housing.  “Montana can do better, and that’s why we’re here today. We have an obligation to ensure no Montanan is left without food, safety, or a roof over their head. We must break down the barriers that prevent LGBTQ youth from succeeding,” said Montana Governor Steve Bullock.

“Students should feel confident that their teachers, mentors, and school leaders will protect their rights and support their needs. Montana Public Schools take this mission seriously, and they’re working each day to create a learning environment that supports all students—gay or straight, rich or poor, high achievers or those who struggle in ways many of us can’t understand,” said Juneau, Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“Last week’s summit put a spotlight on the good work being done across the state on behalf of youth experiencing homelessness—connecting the diverse efforts and systems responsible for youth who are unstably housed, and highlighting service gaps,” said Pride Foundation CEO Kris Hermanns. “Many thoughtful, innovative ideas and solutions were identified as a result of the sessions and discussions. We are eager to continue partnering with the various stakeholders and advocates to carry the momentum forward and build a coordinated and strategic response to this crisis in Montana.”

The summit participants represented school districts, the Office of Higher Education, legislators, school-based educators and counselors, funders, and community providers, all of whom engaged in conversations about the current local and national landscape, promising programs and strategies, and the importance of centering youth experiences when creating solutions.

Near the end of the panel of youth experiencing homelessness, a young adult named Alex spoke about the importance of human connection and sharing ones stories, explaining, “You’re thanking us. But we should be thanking you—you wanted to learn and listen. You showed up— thank you. You’ve helped me not feel so alone.”

Pride Foundation is a regional community foundation that inspires giving to expand opportunities and advance full equality for LGBTQ people across the Northwest. Learn more at 

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  • I remember when an alleged “progressive” and LGBT advocate, Caitlin Copple, led the effort in Missoula to criminalize sitting on downtown sidewalks, which almost got us sued by the ACLU. luckily Adam Hertz, from that despicable other side of the political spectrum, led the effort to reconsider this terrible maneuver and save Missoula from costly litigation.

    it’s great they had a summit, though. next they should fund a study, then form a committee, then forget about this problem and move on to saving more refugees.

    • I’d like to imagine that some part of you wishes you hadn’t left this bizarrely mean-spirited comment about people who are working very hard for kids facing incredible hardship, but I’m guessing that’s not the case.

      Keep sticking it to the man.

    • You can sure be an asshole, Skink. Here’s an organization attempting to address an issue I thought you cared about, homelessness, and all you can do is dredge up an unfortunate city council vote that occurred over two-and-a-half years ago. (The sidewalk ordinance failed 7-5, BTW.)

      But you love labeling: all LGBTQ folks should vote a certain way. That’s not how the political system works. Occasionally, a “progressive” will vote for the interests of the business community, and a “conservative” will vote for the interests of a constituency besides business and commerce.

      And, of course, a Skink screed wouldn’t be complete without a swipe at refugees.

  • there are two categories: stuff that gets done, and stuff that gets talked about.

    examples of stuff getting done: downtown businesses want another ordinance because the last few didn’t work–it’s introduced in October and pushed through by December; do-gooders want to save refugees, and from idea to families arriving in less than a year it happens, with that woman from New York in the newspaper whining about her scramble to find them housing because no income, no credit, no rental history and no co-signing usually destroys your chance of renting in Missoula.

    examples of stuff getting talked about: affordable housing, jail over-crowding, an alternative to the ER and jail for chronic homeless people, the crisis with child protective services. year after year after year, talk, talk, talk.

    everyone at that Summit is doing good work, I’m not criticizing them for being there at all. I bet if you asked them about stuff that gets talked about, and stuff that gets done, they would have very similar frustrations.

    • There are more than a few who consider those assisting the homeless as “do-gooders.” I’m not one of them but I’m sure I could do more to help the homeless. However, although I’m not always successful, I try not denigrate people whose concerns are different than mine. There are a lot of important issues to consider: the environment, poverty, war and peace, the millions of refugees worldwide and, yes, the homeless. Fortunately we have Skink to tell us which are worthy of our attention.

  • So educate me. What has been done? What is proposed to be done? Evidently the OPI / Juneau have identified the issue so what has Juneau and Bullock done to address this issue or is this more business as usual for career politicians and no action? More glad handing, back patting, and vote pandering? Do we need change to get some action?

  • Still waiting for a answer on what Bullock and Juneau have done in the last 4 years to address this? How come the numbers are skyrocketing?

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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