Donor offers match for homeless student fund

An anonymous donor has offered $10,000 in match funds for the Students in Transition program in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

The program, which offers free meals, transportation, school supplies and other assistance to students who do not have permanent housing, is soliciting donations for its operations. If the school district raises $10,000 from independent donors, the philanthropist will match it one-to-one for a total of $20,000.

The program is funded by grants through the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. This year, the funds were exhausted by October, so the school district is hoping to cover the gap with donations from the public.

There were 185 students enrolled in the Students in Transition program as of August 2015, a number expected to increase over the course of the school year, said Pegge Erkeneff, the spokeswoman for the school district.

“When it’s colder out, numbers are on the rise a little bit,” Erkeneff said. “Last fall, it wasn’t so cold. We’ve had upwards of 300 students before.”

One of the difficulties is that the program cannot help the students secure housing, Erkeneff said. There are currently no shelters for the homeless on the peninsula beside the LeeShore Center, which is specifically for women and children who are victims of domestic violence, and the Friendship Mission, which is only for men 21 and older. The school district can only help students with school lunches, clothing, transportation and other academic-related issues, and cannot help them in the summer, when school is out, she said.

“(Housing) is the one thing we can’t help with,” Erkeneff said. “We can’t help them with food or a hotel room or anything like that.”

Donations in kind only help so much, as the program can’t target what individual students’ needs are, Erkeneff said. For example, if someone donates a child’s coat but all the students enrolled at that time are teenagers, that won’t do the homeless student any good, she said. Monetary donations are easier to work with.

The donor, who lives out of state but visits Alaska regularly for the fishing season, learned about the struggles homeless students in Alaska face and contacted Erkeneff with the offer.

“That will help us through the end of the school year,” Erkeneff said. “We have some grant money, and that’s less than what it’s been. Donations and generosity from the community have also helped.”

The donations can be given on the school district’s website or at the district office in Soldotna.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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