Even though the economy is booming, the number of homeless students in Washington state is on the rise.
Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd speaks with Carly Cappetto, family resource coordinator for Bethel School District in Pierce County, Washington, who says families moving to the area from more expensive cities like Seattle in search of affordable housing are struggling to find it.
"Especially if you are a working family and you work a minimum wage job at $12 an hour, 40 hours a week, your income is going to be about $1,900 for the month," she says, "and then $1,400 of that is going to be going towards rent, so that doesn't leave you a lot for crises that happen."
On the growing number of homeless students in Pierce County, and what's causing the problem
"We definitely have seen a significant rise of our homeless families in the last few years. Two years ago, we had about 350 homeless students enrolled. Just this last year, we enrolled 759 homeless students. This year, we don't have a total tally yet, but I can tell you right now, we're well ahead of the numbers that we had last year.
"You have to go out to see them to really understand the layers of the onion that these families are going through. There's multiple layers of it. But I truly believe back in 2014 when we had our economy boom, we never saw rental prices as high as $1,400. You used to be able to get a small apartment or a rental unit for ... a thousand [dollars], $1,100, $1,200. Since then, rentals have gone up.
"There's many different factors that are leaving these families just on the edge of becoming homeless, and really, it's a matter of once that happens, then they're on the streets."
"I find my role becoming an investigator, because they won't come to you. You have to go to them, and you have to be very gentle with it."Carly Cappetto, on working to help students who are homeless
On people who could not afford to live in Seattle, moved to Pierce County, but still cannot afford rent
"We are known for a bedroom community, is what they're calling us. A lot of families are coming out to our area to find the $1,400 rentals or as cheap as they can, and they will commute as far as two hours to work on a daily basis, and, like I said, it just takes a loss of a job or that one crisis or they didn't have money saved up for an incident that happens, before things start to crumble underneath them."
On how employees of the school district identify children from homeless families then try to help them
"It's very challenging. First off, there are families that aren't even getting identified, because they don't want to be identified. They're afraid if they tell anyone that they're living in their car, that their children will be taken away from them. It could be their immigration status that they're afraid of being identified from.
"We recognize them through … just being aware and paying attention to our students at school — which students are getting lunch, which students are sitting without lunch, which kids are on the chronic absentee list, who's coming late, tardy to school every day.
"There's many different factors that are leaving these families just on the edge of becoming homeless, and really, it's a matter of once that happens, then they're on the streets."Carly Cappetto
"I find my role becoming an investigator, because they won't come to you. You have to go to them, and you have to be very gentle with it. I go out in my community and I do drive-bys to go to the address that they have listed in our system just to see kind of what the house is like. A lot of times I just go out to the house and cold knock on the door.
"I just want to ask them in a gentle way, you know, 'Hey, I'm here for you. How can I support you?' And a lot of times at that moment, they will just pour in and just explain everything, and then it's building a relationship from there to get them the services they need to address the barriers they're experiencing."
On how most of the resources the district receives to help homeless families are provided by the community, not the government
"We, [the] Bethel School District, is not connected to a city title, so it's very difficult to have the resources and the funds that we need, so we require solely on our own community to provide funding and donations.
"I believe … we're a model for a lot of school districts serving our homeless families, because we have system set up, where we have a resource bus we drive, we go out to the community, we do food drops, we bring them clothing that they need. Sometimes we've even brought medical supplies, such as wheelchairs, out to families that they need. We have a food program, where we send food packs home with every homeless student on Fridays so they have food for the weekend until they get back to school on Monday. We have multitudes of faith leaders that have pulled together to help solve our problem out here.
"It's wonderful, and we're well supported, but it's like a Band-Aid to every crisis that's happening.
"It's private citizens. It's our team at Bethel. It's our hard work and community leaders that we have that have recognized the need and have wanted to help."
"That's all I can offer for these students, is giving them the hope and the dream that they can be somebody after high school other than what they've experienced."Carly Cappetto
On how she has seen homelessness affect children
"It's just heartbreaking to work with the families and work with the students. Their self-worth and their self-value and what they believe they are capable of doing is so low that it debilitates them from doing potentially well and what they potentially could be.
"I had one young man I was working with, and he had no self-value, could care less about doing his school, and I had asked him, I said, 'What do you want to do? What do you want to be when you grow up?' And he's like, 'I don't know … I'll probably just end up like my parents and be on the streets.' And I'm like, 'No, you can be something different.'
"So after a couple meetings with him over the next week, I had discovered that he loved animals. So it was [as] simple as hooking him up to a veterinarian that took the young man under his wings and started showing him the ropes of what education you need to become a veterinarian doctor and, 'Here, why don't you come after school and help volunteer and clean the kennels for me and do this.' It gave that boy purpose to have a hope and a dream after high school, and that's all I can offer for these students, is giving them the hope and the dream that they can be somebody after high school other than what they've experienced."
This segment aired on October 1, 2018.
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