Foreclosure, eviction, having to move in with relatives or friends, these are all life-changing events and recent data suggests that more and more Ahwatukee Foothills families are losing their homes.

At the end of 2006, 183 families were classified as homeless within Kyrene. That number more than doubled to 425 families at the end of the 2009 school year, 200 of which are from Ahwatukee Foothills. In one specific case, a local Kyrene middle school reported 34 homeless families last year, up from just two in 2006.

"It's been changing significantly," Amanda Hamm, prevention manager at Kyrene, said of the number of homeless families in Kyrene. "There has been a huge increase."

There are four categories in which a family is considered homeless: sheltered, unsheltered, double bunking (families who live with relatives/friends) or taking up temporary residence in a hotel or motel.

"We have families of four who are living in a guest room ... it's incredibly stressful for them," Hamm said.

Kyrene strives itself on being proactive in identifying homeless families to provide support, Hamm said. Staff, including school secretaries and teachers, are trained to look for the signs of a change in residency.

"(Employees) are really well trained to hear red flags," she said. "Like, for example, a family registers with a water bill from their sister's home. The secretary will e-mail me and I will make the call to the family. I ask them about their current living situation and tell them about the support that Kyrene offers."

The support works on many different levels, from providing food and toiletries at the Kyrene Family Resource Center to paying for sports programs, which costs $135 per child. In addition, if a worst-case scenario occurs and a family is forced to move out of district boundaries, the kids can still remain at their original school and receive busing to and from their new home.

"Research has shown that if a child moves schools they lose six months of education," Hamm said. "We don't want our students to leave us mid-year. We want to keep them for the entire year at least."

For families that are struggling financially, the upcoming holiday season can be the most testing. Around Christmas time, Kyrene hosts the festive event called "Winter Wonderland," which is just for the parents. They pick out two gifts per child and receive a $25 Fry's gift card.

"It's like a giant toy store," Hamm said.

It remains to be seen if and when the economy will turn around. But for families across Kyrene who are suffering from financial difficulties, Hamm said the district is there to help in any way possible.

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