During a presentation to the council, Foundation for Edmonds School District Executive Director Deborah Anderson told that council that as of June 2016, there were 641 homeless students in the Edmonds School District — and 127 of those attend schools in Mountlake Terrace. Brier schools had 36 homeless students in 2016.
To address the issue, the Foundation — which supports a variety of Edmonds School District programs to enhance student learning — launched the Nourishing Network, a weekend meal program to feed the district’s homeless children, three years ago.
The Nourishing Network in particular targets children in grades K-3 because research shows that students who have fallen behind their peers academically by grade 3 nearly always stay behind “and never get caught up,” Anderson said.
Homeless demographics in the district have been trending higher every year, partially because the district is working more intensively to identify homeless students, but also also due to economic situations that families are facing, Anderson said. “I would say that for 80 percent, 90 percent of our families, it’s economic, with about 10 percent mental health or health-related issues,” she said.
Using those 2016 statistics, of the district’s 641 homeless students, 114 were in shelters. A large number of families were “doubling up,” Anderson said, referring to a situation where individuals are unable to maintain their housing situation and are forced to stay with a series of friends and/or extended family members. A total of 23 families were unsheltered, living in their car, in a tent or on the streets and 71 families lived in motels, she said.
Through the Nourishing Network, the foundation provided a total of 4,270 weekend meal kits as of June 2016 — consisting of two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners, plus a variety of snacks, juices and milks. This year, as of February, the foundation provided 2,083 meal kits, and estimates it will send out close to 5,000 meal kits by the end of the school year, Anderson said.
The foundation operates a food pantry located at Edmonds Heights K-12 school on the former Woodway High School campus. Edmonds Heights serves the district’s home-schooled students, and those students often volunteer to help bag food for the Nourishing Network program, Anderson said.
The foundation is supported financially by private donations, and relies on volunteer support from a network of 45 churches and 13 business groups and foundations, a variety of civic groups, and Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops. Frontier, Acura of Lynnwood, Industrious Crossfit and City of Lynnwood police volunteers help deliver food to homeless families on Thursdays, so the families have it for the weekend. The foundation hopes to eventually acquire a van to help with deliveries.
For the past two years, the foundation has operated a summer meal program and plans to expand that from two sites to three this year so it can to serve more children. Since the district has 7,400 students who receive free or reduced-price school lunches, and those meals aren’t available during the summer months, “we know the need is there,” she said.
The foundation is also beginning to measure outcomes from its work, examining the connection between its meal program and increased attendance for students who are homeless. It also is hoping to expand its meal program to serve more students, Anderson said. The Nourishing Network currently serves 163 children a week and the foundation board has set a goal of serving 200 students weekly.
Councilmember Rick Ryan thanked Anderson for her presentation, noting that he is a teacher in the Mukilteo School District, which is facing similar issues related to homelessness and hunger. “I just wish that more of your statistics would be published in the newspaper and people would recognize what is really going on in the community,” Ryan said.
“It just heartbreaking,” said Councilmember Laura Sonmore, who added she was “speechless” after Anderson’s report.
Sonmore asked how the city can help and also what steps citizens can take to assist. Anderson said that she has discussed the issue with City Manager Scott Hugill and that the city is planning to host a joint food drive with the foundation in the fall.
— By Teresa Wippel