Local Educator Lends a Helping Hand to Homeless Students

According to Kristin White, Sapulpa Public Schools’ Chieftain Care Coordinator/Administrative Assistant, there are 148 public school students in Sapulpa who are classified as homeless, ranging in grade from kindergarten to high school.

Homeless doesn’t necessarily mean living on the streets. “The term homeless can mean that it is a temporary living situation, living with a friend, a grandma or an aunt, that is considered doubled up,” White says. “If kids live in a shelter, they are considered homeless and fall under us. We have numerous families living in a motel or hotel, or even a campground, or their vehicle. We have some people who have a camper on their property, or even a tent, those people are considered homeless, and then a lot of them are displaced by couch surfing.” While this number is distressing, it may just be the tip of the iceberg. White stated principals and counselors have told her that there are “numerous other kids” who are homeless, but have not been documented. 

Identifying and bringing those students into the program is an area in which White wants to place a greater emphasis. “That’s really my goal, to make myself accessible to those kids. Recently, I have met with a lot of students in the High School and Bartlett (Alternative School), just kind of getting my face out there and my heart out there, and telling them, ‘Hey, I want to know about the friends that are couch surfing.’”

Ms. White explained how the “family dynamic” has changed in recent years. “There are numerous kids where mom might have a new boyfriend, and that boyfriend might not get along with them, so the teenager is moving out.”

Parents being incarcerated is a contributor to student homelessness. “I just had a family this past week that both parents were arrested on Wednesday, and now they have moved in with Grandma.” Ms. White further explained that children who have relatives are typically not placed in foster homes in these situations and this often places a burden on the relative. “Grandma loves them but it means taking on the added expense of buying clothes and food.”

White alluded to the massive increase in apartment rent, “In the past six or seven months, apartment rent has skyrocketed.” Government housing programs were mentioned and White replied: “Number one, Section 8 has a very long waiting list. Second of all, more and more people (landlords) are not doing Section 8 housing anymore because of the trouble they have had in the past, the way the funding takes so long and what Section 8 allows for rent…has not risen like the rents have.”

White expanded on the impact that the rapidly spring cost of all goods have had on family budgets. “You have so many families that levied and have got a budget and are functioning paycheck to paycheck. In the last 8 or 9 months we have had fuel costs increase dramatically, and we have had food costs dramatically increase. Those people have lived the last 5 years paycheck to paycheck, have everything budgeted.” She then emphasized that wages have not kept up with inflation.

When asked what community programs are available to address this problem, White said: “We have the opportunity to connect them with any type of counseling agency like CREOKS, or occupational therapy, or whatever they are needing. Caring Community Friends can help with deposits and food, and different things. What we don’t have is a housing community, I feel that is really what we need.”

Kristen White Kristin White poses with bags of snacks and groceries for the 148 Sapulpa School students who are considered homeless. Charles Betzler photo.

White explained there is also a Federal program to assist homeless children that is funded through the McKinney-Vento Act. According to information online, the act “provides rights and services to children and youth experiencing homelessness, which includes those who are: sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; staying in motels, trailer parks, or camp grounds due to the lack of an adequate alternative; staying in shelters or transitional housing; or sleeping in cars, parks, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, or similar settings.”

White however said: “Financial support for the program is multiple-faceted. We currently receive federal funds through a McKinney-Vento grant; however, this grant does not cover all the expenses of all our students and there are definite limits as to how the money can be spent. In order to make the greatest impact on student lives, we rely heavily on donations from businesses and/or individuals.” 

“I have only been in the role about eight weeks but I have expanded it and growing it. We are starting a mentorship program which we are super excited about. These kids that are in my McKinney-Vento Group that need that extra help that are going to have a high schooler paired with them and have an adult form the community paired with them as well…We are looking in the fall to actually get parents together and help parents be better parents, bringing in guest speakers and running workshops, all free to them.”

She plans on establishing a “Homeless Hub” at the Administration Building.

“That ‘Homeless Hub’ is going to have a washer and dryer in there, have some places for kids to come in and study, a lot of these kids that are homeless and living in cars just need a place to sit and get situated. We have a partner that does have a shower available for them, and we are going to have some mailboxes in there so they can actually have an address to use for job applications or for college applications. A lot of them don’t have an address and that is what is needed to be successful in life.”

She said guest speakers would be doctors who would talk about mental and physical health.

“I just made a partnership with a local clinic here that is a group of doctors that is amazing.”

The Sapulpa Herald asked Ms. White what her vision was for community involvement in the program: “In regards to where we can have the community assisting our goal, it is wherever they can assist financially, and where they can volunteer for the mentor program and those sorts of things…I would love to get local business involved.”

White stated that State funds can not be used for bedding. Therefore, if local furniture stores could donate a bed, it would be a great help.

“I would love to have an auto mechanic or two, have a Saturday, once a month when we get together and they do tune ups and check out cars where my parents can bring their cars. I would love to have community involvement with a hair salon, or a couple of salons or spas where we can get into our schools and set up for haircuts.”

White is worried about health care for children because the State is resuming prior income limits for eligibility of SoonerCare since Covid is over. “There will be 275,000 families in Oklahoma itself that will lose their insurance.”

Ms. White not only works tirelessly to assist homeless students but makes sure that all students who are in need of clothing, food, or school supplies have access to them.

She has grown to love Sapulpa and is “blown away” by the community spirit here in Sapulpa.

“What I see here is such a loving, caring, compassionate community, the town has so many people who have stayed, invested in it and are raising second and third generations. The teachers and administrators, they care about each other and the students very deeply. The community has that family feel, Ieven tell my own family how much I love my job and that the Sapulpa community cares.”

Ms. White ended the interview by saying: “It is an absolute honor and privilege to be working at Sapulpa Public School in this role. The community is so generous, kind and loving and I look forward to fostering more relationships and bringing great opportunities and partnerships to the District.” 

Anyone wishing to donate time, talent, or treasure may contact Kristin White, Sapulpa Public schools, at 918-224-3400, Extension 1129, or via email; kwhite@sapulpaps.org