Felicity and Lauralee Barnhart have been doing school work from a family dayroom, used by five other families as well, at the women and children’s homeless shelter in Roseburg.

Felicity and Lauralee stay in a room at the Samaritan Inn with their mom, Rose Barnhart.

“It’s hard when you have to have your kids in class,” Rose Barnhart said. “Because you don’t have much time to be able to go out and get applications in, and you have to do everything online and not everything is listed online.”

The family came from Grants Pass, where Lauralee is still enrolled in special education courses at the high school. They came to Roseburg when they couldn’t find a place to stay in Grants Pass.

“We were staying in a motel and it got to where we couldn’t afford the motel anymore because with the COVID I couldn’t work because they were on distance learning,” Rose Barnhart said. “Since we couldn’t afford the motel, I was looking around for shelters and there wasn’t any place in the Grants Pass one so a friend of mine called this one and they said yeah, we can come up here.”

Rose Barnhart and Lauralee moved to Roseburg in July, while Felicity stayed in the Grants Pass youth shelter Hearts with a Mission until October.

Felicity is now enrolled at Fremont Middle School in Roseburg where she will start on-site hybrid learning Monday and meet some of her classmates in person for the first time.

Samaritan Inn manager Susan Nelson helped the family get in touch with the Roseburg school district and its homeless student liaison Juliana Marez when the Barnharts arrived at the shelter.

Felicity was able to get a Chromebook and Wi-Fi hotspot to access her school work.

Nelson said Marez also helps provide transportation for any Douglas County student staying at the Samaritan Inn. Marez added she’s also able to help with transportation for students and parents to school-related events such as meetings, choir concerts and band performances.

NUMBERSThroughout Oregon, there were 21,080 homeless students, which make up 3.62% of all students enrolled in public schools, according to data released by the Oregon Department of Education about the 2019-2020 school year.

There were at least 670 students in Douglas County who did not have fixed, regular or adequate housing, according to the state data released in November 2020. Although that number is anticipated to go up as wildfires and COVID-19 impacted housing throughout the state.

Matthew Rasmussen, the runaway and homeless youth program coordinator for the Oregon Department of Human Services, said the number of homeless students in the state and the county is likely much higher.

“Studies show that the rate of youth homelessness in urban areas is essentially identical to rural areas, so these numbers from the school districts don’t seem to paint the picture of need that I’m sure many youth-serving agencies and community members see,” he said.

Dane Tornell, the executive director of Youth for Christ, said he estimates there are about 250 to 280 kids between the ages of 11 and 19 in the area that don’t have a home.

Roseburg Public Schools reported having 124 homeless students during the 2019-2020 school year, according to the Oregon Statewide Report Card. That is about 2.02% of the total student population, which is below the state average of 3.62%.

Roseburg, Glide, Camas Valley, Winston-Dillard and Sutherlin school districts all had less than the state average.

There were two school districts in Douglas County where more than 20% of the student body was considered homeless, Reedsport and Glendale. In Elkton, 16.53% of students, 39 total, were considered homeless.

HELP“We do our best to try to find them long-term housing, or people who have homes that can take them in,” Tornell said. “People are going through our own system of background check with Youth for Christ and then we work with a local church to help with funding or resources or job acquisition for the kids that are old enough. Looking for work for them to and connecting them to people who can help in Jesus’ name.”

Tornell also works closely with Faith Family and Relationship Advocates, a nonprofit mental health agency in Roseburg also referred to as FARA.

Carrie Colvard, FARA-4-Youth advocate, said that since the youth shelter Casa de Belen closed in Roseburg in early 2020 it’s been harder for children to get a safe place to stay.

“We have Samaritan Inn where women can go and then we have Peace at Home where you can go if you’re being battered or abuse, but we don’t have anything for youth,” Colvard said. “That’s something we’re working on.”

Right now the closest youth shelter is in Grants Pass and a transitional living home in Medford for older youth, but children are hesitant to go that far away.

Felicity Barnhart, who stayed in the Grants Pass shelter from July to October, had only good things to share about her experience.

“We went to the river like every single day and we’d go swimming and my first day there we went to the waterpark in Redding,” Felicity said. She also said they went rock climbing, to a family fun center and went on several camping trips.

The Samaritan Inn is open to women and children, but not to youth without a guardian or boys over the age of 14.

On Wednesday, there were 11 children at Samaritan Inn — although not all school-aged.

Marez said she does weekly street outreach, from 9 to 11 a.m. Monday at the Dream Center. On Mondays, Marez is there along with other community advocates and service programs.

In Douglas County, Faith Family and Relationship Advocates has a program called Safe Families for Children under its umbrella, with Brandi Myers as the program director. Safe Families for Children is an international organization started in Chicago, but it’s new to Douglas County and currently has just four families that are able to take in children.

Safe Families for Children will temporarily place children with another family in the area.

“One of the benefits of Safe Families is that they can stay here in the Roseburg community,” Colvard said. “One of the biggest trends that we’re seeing is, understandably, that their biggest protective factor is their friends and their school and the people that they do know here. And even if they only have —what the rest of us would see as— negative influences or negative friendships, it is still a source of comfort for them. It’s what they’re used to. It’s what they know.”

Safe Families doesn’t just take in children who are experiencing homelessness, but also children who need a place to stay while their parents are away for any reason.

“The long-term goal is Safe Families, because it is not a shelter,” Colvard said. “It is a model of kids being able to see what a healthy, high-functioning, loving, supportive family looks like. And it’s here in Roseburg, but we have to vet those people. They have to go through training, they have to go through background checks, they’ve got to get ready to have these youth in their home.”

Myers said several more families, including Tornell’s, are going through the process of being able to take in children that are referred to the organization through schools, hospitals, human services or the community.

RISKS“Any person, especially youth, who are unhoused are looking for security, safety and warmth,” said Marion Pearson with the Douglas County Human Trafficking Task Force. “They are desperate to have their basic needs met, making them vulnerable to anyone who might pose as a benefactor offering those things. Youth are not often aware of the dangers of benefactors who make promises and then expect ‘payment’ in exchange for security, a roof over their heads, food in their mouths, etc.”

Pearson said children think they can spot a predator and take care of themselves. They may also think that exchanging sex or services for a place to live is better than being homeless, but this survival sex is just another form of exploitation.

“When the choices are probable sexual assault on the streets or having to have sex for being warm and eating a meal, there really isn’t a choice,” Pearson said.

Pearson said there need to be protective factors in the community to prevent abuse, address risk factors and offer easy access to support.

“Our schools are great at identifying families that may need extra support but we also need to take away the stigma in asking for help,” Pearson said.

Rick Burton, Roseburg Public Schools’ director of student services, said that the immediate impact of homelessness is loss and grieving, often accompanied with trauma and loneliness, with many just trying to survive.

“For those feeling detached and unrecognized, many develop anxiety,” Burton said. “Social and emotional development is replaced with survival focused strategies. Maslow’s hierarchy of basic needs becomes the focus of living day-to-day. The academics of school often become the least of the student concerns. The student is often confused and in survival mode.”

Burton said students will continue coming to school for a sense of normalcy as well as safety, nutrition, warmth and friends. Schools have continued to offer nutrition and counseling services even when schools were closed to in-person instruction.

IMPACT OF 2020“It’s really hard when people don’t have contact with children at schools,” Myers said. “Schools will be a really good referral resource but the people are not seeing children, so it’s hard to make those connections right now.”

State numbers seemed down in comparison with previous years, but the department of education warned that comparing data from a school year impacted with COVID-19 to a regular school year may skew the data. It also noted that students who became homeless as a result of the pandemic or the wildfires were not included this year, but will be next year.

“The impact of COVID-19 and the subsequent fires displaces families and additionally created tracing dilemmas due to students not coming to school and the information that readily comes from on-site interactions,” Burton said. “The loss of person to person connectivity and students and families prioritizing their management of crisis often slowed the interactions and reporting of the typical data.”

Marez continued her street outreach at the Dream Center and other locations to provide assistance. She also continues to check in with families on a quarterly basis and went to the Douglas County Fairgrounds following the wildfires.

HOPESeveral community advocates are working together to create future support systems for unaccompanied youth.

Rasmussen said that from an outside perspective, partnerships between schools and other entities have been really successful.

“In Beaverton School District, the MV Liaison worked to bring to light Second Home — a host home program designed to assist 16+ unaccompanied homeless youth be housed as a tenant with a host family in order to complete school,” he said. “In Medford, Maslow Project works directly with a local school and liaisons to have a drop-in center just outside of campus so that youth experiencing homelessness in school have an easy way to get assistance during or after school.”

Several local advocates indicated that a community effort to find solutions, both long and short-term, have been underway.

But one of the biggest barriers to homelessness, is the availability and affordability of homes.

Rose Barnhart is on several waiting lists to get housing, but struggles to find time to apply to more places when she also needs to help her daughters with schoolwork. She’s also unable to work while Lauralee, who is developmentally disabled, remains in distance learning.

“It’s been slow,” she said, adding that she’s applied to housing in both Grants Pass and Roseburg.

And when fantasizing about what having a place of their own would be like, Rose Barnhart and Felicity just wanted some more freedom to come and go.

Felicity said, “I want to be free and also possibly get a puppy.” She’d also like to have her nephew over for visits, something that is not possible at the shelter.

Rose said she’d like to be able to send her daughters to their room, so she can get some quiet time.

Sanne Godfrey can be reached at sgodfrey@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4203. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey.

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