For many families in Juneau, summer is winding down and coming to a bitter-sweet end. Stores across town are in the midst of their back-to-school sales as parents make their way down classroom supply lists. But for some, going back to school adds another element of stress in the daily struggle for survival, for both homeless families and homeless unaccompanied youth. To help remedy some of that stress, Kay Streeter of the Department of Education is making an effort to make life just a little bit easier by collecting toiletries for Juneau’s homeless youth.
“I largely started doing it as a demonstration to the school district that you can do a lot, make an impact without spending a lot of money,” said Streeter.
With funding being flat-lined over the last couple of years, and the high rate of turnovers for homeless liaisons in the school district, Streeter used the resources readily available to her to make an example.
“It was one thing I thought I could do here by collecting supplies,” said Streeter. “We have a lot of people here, like in most state offices, who travel a lot for work. And in the hotels, they have toiletries that sometimes you don’t really need because you bring your own. So I had a drawer full and I just thought, if I tapped into all the other people around here at EED that travel and could bring stuff in, it would show the school district that you can do a lot with not very much money.”
Part of Streeter’s inspiration for the project was to help with consistency and keeping projects fluid, despite the high turnover rate of homeless liaisons in Juneau.
Under the McKinney Vento Act, school districts are required to “appoint an appropriate person as a school district liaison, who is responsible for carrying out certain duties to make sure the district is in compliance with the law.
“The act was first passed to help school districts, and kids overcome barriers associated with homelessness, with the realization that schools are sometimes the only stable place a kid has,” said Streeter.
With 156 registered homeless youth in Juneau last school year, it’s important to make the effort to keep kids motivated to help prevent dropouts and end the cycle of homelessness.
Juneau has a particularly difficult time keeping a liaison, with high turnover rates, it’s made it difficult to keep any kind of consistency, especially with projects such as Streeter’s. So when Streeter went to give a presentation to all of the school district’s counselors, who are responsible for identifying homeless kids, she started the toiletry program to show a lot can be done with very little.
“I had volunteered to go and speak to the counselors (last fall),” said Streeter. “As part of that session, I decided I’m going to show that there are some things you can do pretty quickly and easily to help support kids ... especially with our homeless unaccompanied youth, who are teenagers who many not have an adult in their life. Those kids generally couch surf and certainly don’t want anyone to know at school that they’re different, and having hygiene supplies that they can have access to without spending money, it helps them fit in.”
Streeter originally planned to only collect supplies through December, but as supplies kept coming in, she decided to save them for the next batch.
“There were people who, it wasn’t what they brought home from a hotel, they actually went and purchased a bunch of floss, different things that hotels don’t provide,” said Streeter. “We had donations of all sorts of stuff, including gloves. Little gloves and socks. I think that might be what I do next, a hat and glove drive.”
“I’m hoping that people in the district will take this outside just (this) office,” Streeter said. “That they would take the idea and maybe even just take it to another office, because we’re not the only state office, and there’s a lot of people, I think, that would contribute.”
As a the beginning of a new school year nears, Streeter plans on revitalizing the project in her office for one last push before she hands off the next batch. And besides Streeter’s goal of making an example of doing a lot with a little, it’s about helping those who need it most.
“Giving the bags isn’t just about giving toothpaste, it’s partly about just showing them that someone cares about them.”