Madison Metropolitan School District’s Transition Education Program (TEP) is seeking donations of hygiene products and winter gear for the district’s approximately 680 homeless students.
“That number grows every week,” said TEP resource teacher Jani Koester. “Many of those students are not in shelters or in housing programs that support these needs. They’re doubled up with other families or friends. And so finding access to that gear is harder because they don’t qualify for all the programs that we have in our shelters and housing programs or outreach programs.”
Koester said the TEP office is promoting a donation drive this month because November is Homeless Awareness Month in Wisconsin, but needs donations year-round. Donations can be money, gift cards, or products such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and hair products. The TEP office can not provide money to families, but can use monetary donations to buy items they need.
Koester said the vast majority of students experiencing homelessness are students of color, and hair and skin care products specifically made for Black children are in very short supply.
“We’d like to provide them because that’s something they don’t often have access to,” Koester said. “We try really hard to have a variety of products. And right now we don’t have any. So that’s our push in the drive, is African American hair products.”
The students, who range in age from 4K through high school, also need winter gear like snow boots, hats and gloves. Those can be gently used, as long as they’re washed.
“People outgrow them often,” Koester said. “We like to recycle, reuse.”
Koester said students experiencing homelessness are also facing a great deal of stress and barriers to education, and a few basic things to make their daily lives easier can go a long way.
“They’re usually there because it’s an emergent need. They’ve been evicted, they’ve lost their jobs, they’ve lost their housing,” she said. “It’s not a choice to live with another family. It’s because they don’t have any other choices. And it’s because they don’t have anywhere else to go.”
She said kids often end up sleeping somewhere that’s not really a bedroom, and are very aware that their situations are tenuous. They talk about “walking on eggshells” and are often reluctant to ask the people they’re staying with for things like soap and shampoo.
“Those situations are pretty tight, pretty controlled,” she said. “Kids can’t be kids.”
Koester said every school district has a homeless student liaison in compliance with McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, a federal law requiring school districts to support homeless students. The Madison school district’s TEP office has an operating budget, but no budget to provide the kinds of supplies they’re looking for in this donation drive.
Everything they provide families is donated or purchased with donated funds, she said.
“We’re just grateful for the community’s support,” she said.
If you’d like to donate items or money in support of homeless students in Madison, email Jani Koester at email@example.com or call 608-204-2063.