KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Having a safe place to be, while going to school in the middle of a global pandemic has been increasingly difficult for youth across Kansas City.
Carly Schultze is the program director at the HALO Foundation, a group working to remove barriers and bring an end to children experiencing homelessness.
“Youth homelessness doesn’t look the same as we might kind of stereotype what homelessness looks like," Schultze said.
As a direct response to the pandemic and the inequities brought to the forefront as a result of virtual learning, the foundation used its learning center - repurposing a warehouse once used by the United States Department of Agriculture - in the West Bottoms to open up HALO Haven in September 2020.
“We were really worried that our kids would be missing out on that school lunch and sometimes school breakfast," Schultze said, adding the group was also concerned about making sure kids had access to the internet.
HALO Haven is a daytime and evening virtual learning program filled with access to WiFi, school and hygiene supplies, one-on-one tutoring, warm food and transportation to and from the location.
Student Christopher Skelton, who plans to graduate this year, says he's used HALO Haven to improve attendance and grades.
“It’s calm and I have space to do my work and everything," Skelton said of HALO Haven, adding he also takes advantage of a supply closet that has supplies students can use.
That supply closet is filled with non-perishable food items to take home, and includes snacks, school supplies, toothbrushes, toothpaste and nearly every item you'd expect to find in the bathroom of grade school student.
The closet sits adjacent from a reading corner, covered in artwork by HALO Haven kids, and across from a wood workshop.
“We are actively trying to not re-traumatize them while they are here, but trying to get them thinking about their future in a really positive light," Schultze said. "We can do that through people that are here to work with them and encourage them. It kind of creates this safe bubble for them.”
“It feels good that I actually have people that can help me, so it’s not as difficult," Skelton said, noting he knows what it's like to have been without help before.
“These kids are the future of Kansas City and they all have just such a beautiful potential that is already in them before they come here," Schultze says. "It just takes a community to show them that what they want to do is possible, that it’s just as possible for them as it is with any other kid that maybe has never experienced trauma or homelessness before.“
Schultze says there is a growing population of youth who are couch-surfing and going without a stable place to stay for too long.
People ages 5 to their early 20s are eligible to receive services at the haven.
More information about the program is available on HALO's website.
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