More than 180 children in the Ottawa school district are classified as homeless, Lisa Rivers, homeless liaison for USD 290, said.
In her role, Rivers said, she makes homeless students and families aware of the help and resources available in the community.
According to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, students can be considered homeless if they “lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” This can include:
• Sharing housing with others because of economic hardship or loss of housing;
• Living in a motel or hotel;
• Living in an emergency or transitional shelter;
• Awaiting foster care placement; or
• Living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings or similar settings.
The bulk of Ottawa’s homeless children, about 85 to 90 percent, Rivers estimated, are families “doubled up” with other families in a home.
Of the remainder, a small handful are in foster care awaiting placement, a few are classified as “unaccompanied youth” and one or two are living in a hotel, she said.
At the beginning of the school year, at least one child was living out of a vehicle, sleeping in a car parked in an acquaintance’s driveway.
“Thankfully, we found out about that after just a couple of nights,” Rivers said. “But that’s a really traumatic experience for a child, let alone the parent. I remember talking to that parent on the phone, who was just crying ... These kids that are doubled up, they don’t have a place of their own to be able to just settle in and find peace and get some rest. That feeds into the stress of a family, and the child picks up on all of that for sure.”
Everyone has a different idea about solving homelessness, Rivers said, and they’re almost always with the best intentions.
“More than anything, it’s about relationships more than it is about programs,” Rivers said. “ ... I don’t think you need to build a building to meet people where they are. Our biggest fixture is helping people strategize, ‘What do you want for your family, and what’s it going to take to get there?’”