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Homeless students face different challenges as school year approaches

Posted at 5:59 PM, Jul 24, 2020

SEATTLE, Wash, -- Gwen Anderson says life for her and her daughter, Katja, was pretty tough even before COVID-19 hit.

“I became disabled, I had a lot of medical issues. Once I became disabled, my doctor took me off of work, I lost my income,” said Anderson.

She and Katja lived about 20 minutes south of Seattle and Katja was finishing up 8th grade.

Then came the pandemic, an abrupt shutdown at school, and if that weren’t enough, financially, things went from bad to worse.

“That was the hardest decision to make was to give up my apartment and to realize I couldn’t afford it any longer and to become homeless,” Anderson said.

For Katja, it meant learning from home without a home. There was no consistency, and she says that was the hardest part.

“Not being in contact with my teachers and having them help me, so I can ask questions,” said Katja.

They moved into Mary’s Place, a homeless shelter that had to make adjustments during the pandemic as well.

“COVID has created, basically, our entire service system and the work that we do and adjust every piece of it,”said James Flynn, the chief programming officer for Mary’s Place.

He runs all the programs used by people that stay at the shelter. That includes assistance that helps students stay in school

“Our youths services team are usually helping prepare folks for enrollment, getting ready for the school year, making sure everybody has what they need to feel prepared for the school year. Right now we’re really taking things day by day... making sure people have laptops, tablets, internet service. At the end of last school year here in our kids club areas we provided space for families who needed extra support to be able to have their kids come here and get some extra help,” said Flynn.

There’s 2.5 million homeless kids in the U.S. today, many of whom, if they’re not able to stay in school, may not have access to the technology they need to stay connected.

So far, Katja has been able to keep her school-issued laptop.

“We still have our school laptops, we didn’t return them,” she said.

Gwen worries about how being away from school and being homeless will affect her daughter beyond just academically.

“She’s originally a shy person and that (school) helps her come out of her shell. So I would prefer for her to be in school and her to interact with her classmates and her teachers,” said Anderson.

She says she will do what she has to get herself and Katja into a new home and keep Katja connected to her education.