Homeless youth in Kaukauna. File photo by Dimi Katsavaris/UnSplash
File photo by Dimi Katsavaris/UnSplash

KAUKAUNA — Despite the festive signs that come with the season, the holidays can bring added challenges for many families.

And for homeless youth, those challenges are even greater.

In Kaukauna, there were 58 students considered homeless last year, according to Karen Wirth, a social worker and homeless liason with the Kaukauna Area School District.


That includes any child or youth who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. 

They can include families that are doubled up with another family, living in a hotel, living in a shelter, living at a campground or staying in their car.

Of those 58, four were considered unaccompanied, which means they are both homeless and without a family with them.

“It is amazing to see how resilient families can be when faced with the challenge of losing their permanent housing,” Wirth said.

Schools are required by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act to provide services that include transportation to and from the school. That could also include providing gas cards for parents who transport their own children, cabbing and busing.

Support for students

This year, Wirth said the Kaukauna Area School District purchased a van and hired a driver to provide a safe and reliable way to transport students who are in a transitional housing situation.

Wirth said one of the families who has recently started using the service told her how grateful they are while they try to get back on their feet.

The school also provides free breakfast and lunch, waiver of school fees, help with school supplies and referrals to community programs as needed.

In addition, the district provides other items as needed to help the students be successful at school, Wirth said.

For example, the district helped pay for a student’s orchestra instrument while they were in a transitional living situation.

The students may also participate in the BackPack program which is sponsored by St. Joe’s food pantry. Small bags of food are picked up at the pantry and distributed on Fridays for students and families to have some supplemental food for the weekend.

“This work can be very difficult and heart wrenching, but also rewarding,” Wirth said. “The gratitude and relief that is expressed by families for the support that the district provides to help their children to be able to stay in their schools is incredible and humbling.”

A national problem

Kaukauna’s homeless student population is just a sliver of the statewide total.

According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homeless, there are 18,394 homeless students in Wiscconsin. Of those:

  • Total number of unaccompanied homeless students: 2,322
  • Nighttime residence, unsheltered: 308
  • Nighttime residence, shelters: 1,971
  • Nighttime residence, hotels/motels: 1,485
  • Nighttime residence, doubled up: 14,630

How you can help

The community can support programs that assist families in taking care of their children.

Donating to Harbor House (Domestic Violence Shelter), Pillars (the family shelter) any food pantry in the area, or adopting families through the Salvation Army or your local church at Christmas time.

For the Kaukauna School District, financial donations or gift cards to help support family needs as they arise are greatly appreciated and helpful.

For information on how to donate to students in the district, email Wirth at wirthk@kaukaunasd.org



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By Dan Plutchak

Dan Plutchak, born and raised in Kaukauna, is cofounder of Kaukauna Community News.