On the surface Ahwatukee Foothills seems like a relatively affluent area with residents who live comfortably, but the economy has taken just as heavy a toll here as it has elsewhere, and the number of homeless families in the area is growing.
Eight years ago there were only two homeless families in the Kyrene School District, but by the end of this year Roxanne Richardson, refugee homeless liaison for KSD, predicts that the district will have 500 homeless students.
The federal government provides grants to school districts through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, and KSD provides assistance to families in need through the Kyrene Family Resource Center (KFRC).
“Gently-used items that people were going to give or throw away find new life at the resource center,” Richardson said. “They can come and get backpacks or school supplies, and we’ve even gone into house supplies because teachers occasionally remodel their homes and donate their furniture to us.”
Outside of the KFRC, every KSD employee is trained to look for signs of homelessness among their students.
“Good indicators to look for include moving from school to school, foster children, living in hotels or living with grandparents,” Richardson said.
Once a child is identified as homeless, they are put in contact with the KFRC. According to Richardson, being homeless or displaced can put enormous stress on students.
“I know people don’t equate homelessness with having to double up with family members or friends, but when a whole family is delegated to one room, no one has enough dressers or space for everyone to put their things,” she said. “The children can’t always find their school materials, and there is so much stress in that.”
The simple necessities that many children never want for, like food, are a big question mark for homeless students.
“The buzz word that you hear often is food insecurity, but it’s a nice way of saying we’re starving,” Richardson said. “The resource center has a food pantry that is stocked each week by St. Mary’s Food Bank.”
The housing market crisis has created heart-wrenching problems for KSD students as well.
“There have been times when we’ve had children come to school on the bus, and the kids go home after school and their home has been foreclosed,” Richardson said.
If residents of Ahwatukee Foothills are interested, they can donate toys and games to the KFRC’s annual Winter Wonderland. The event will provide nearly 400 KSD families with the opportunity to shop for the holidays, which they would be unable to do on their own.
“The KSD boardroom is going to turn into a winter wonderland,” Richardson said. “It’s a special time for the parent only, who can come alone and decide what toys their child would love.”
Examples of toys to be donated include sporting equipment, bath gel sets, MP3 players, wave boards, and books from the Twilight series. Donations can be dropped off from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Kyrene District Office, located at 8700 S. Kyrene Road.