Families in transition

The face of homelessness is not always the unshaven man sleeping on the sidewalk.

In many Montana communities, the face of homelessness increasingly belongs to a child living in an RV with their family.

In our continued 'Spirit of Giving' coverage, Angela Marshall shows us how one Missoula organization is helping to empower our homeless youth.

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Seven Hobbs has many titles.

Dad.

Uncle.

Grandpa.

Along with his 17-year-old daughter, Hobbs cares for his 10-year-old nephew and two-year-old grandson.

"I did pretty good," Seven Hobbs says. "And then all of sudden. The shock of my income. The hours aren't working out. I had to change jobs. I had to change my address."

Hobbs and the children became a family in transition.

"There was a moment where I was literally living in my RV."

Knowing he needed help, he turned to his nephew's public school and was immediately introduced to the Families in Transition coordinator.

"We are seeing a lot of families that are unsheltered," says Families in Transition District Liaison Trish Kirschten. "They're in their cars. They're in their campers."

Kirschten has been the Families in Transition District Liaison for Missoula County Public Schools for nearly five years.

In that time, she's seen the number homeless children and teens climb.

"We had 510 kids qualify last year, because of the fires and because of the floods," Kirschten says.

During the 2016-2017 school year, 438 students qualified for the Families in Transition program.

This school year, Kirschten says that 287 students are qualified.

But she knows that number will only rise before the school year ends, so she's always working to identify homeless youth.

She says that here are some clues for which she looks: "Is a student hoarding their backpack, because that's where their whole life is at right now? Is a student coming into school unbathed, unshowered, inappropriately dressed for the weather? Do we see a car that's driving into the parking lot that's overly stuffed with things?"

Finding those students at an early age, Kirschten says, is key to getting them and their families the support they need.

Within the school district that includes providing school supplies and backpacks, coats and boots, and distributing weekend snack packs.

Within the community that includes connecting them with social services to provide stable housing, jobs, and health care.

"It really works as a whole system to help the families."

And when the needs of the family are met, she says, the children are empowered to stay in school.

"The kids were able to benefit because of all the resources I was able to get from them," Hobbs says. "If I didn't have that in my life, it would've been a much harder struggle to just make things normal."

And thanks to Families in Transition, Hobbs is looking forward to his new "normal" this holiday season, one of being a family of stability.

"I'm looking forward to being settled in a warm and safe environment for the kids," he adds. "It's going to be a great Christmas."

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There are countless ways you can give to the Families in Transition program.

From donating new or gently-used clothing to making financial offerings, you can choose one of the various ways to give back and participate in the 'Spirit of Giving.'

• Support the My Student in Need requests that are listed in the Missoulian

• Make a financial donation to a fundraiser going on at The Break Espresso. They fundraise and purchase fleece blankets and donate those to the FIT Program, as well as Missoula Youth Homes and Watson Children's Shelter.

• Make a financial donation to MOR4 Kids at 724 Burlington Ave., Missoula. MOR4Kids gives VISA gift cards to 29 area schools that the schools use to support families in need.

• Contact the Heart of the City program to see if there are holiday needs that still need to be met.

• Make a financial donation to the Salvation Army or United Way for the Back to School Bash that occurs every August and supplies over 1,300 backpacks and school supplies to students in need.

• Make a financial or physical donation to the MCPS FIT Program. Donations can be dropped off at the Administration Building at 215 S 6th St. W., Missoula).

KTMF News Anchor

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