The first day of school is challenging enough but being homeless makes it even more so. What, for example, is a child to do when he or she ends up in a shelter far from school? And how about school supplies, shoes or sports equipment? And of course, there's the stigma.
"The boys and girls don't want everyone saying, 'Look at these poor kids,'" said Ashley Dudunake, children services manager for the City Light shelter, which provides safe haven for dozens of women and children. "But look at these kids tonight."
Dudunake looked out at rows of boys and girls of all ages, each getting top-drawer hairstyles for the new school year, compliments of Lunatic Fringe in BODO. As an Aug. 20 late afternoon gave way to twilight, more than 20 City Light kids walked through the doors of the salon, a bit reticent at first, but as each stylist grabbed the boys and girls by the hand, the room filled with contagious optimism.
"I have to admit, we get the most out of it," said Andrea Hemmer, who owns Lunatic Fringe with her husband and partner Levi. "We have our whole team working tonight. They wouldn't miss it for the world."
There are nearly 800 homeless students in Boise, nearly 2,500 in the Treasure Valley and more than 4,500 across Idaho. New research indicates that homeless children are nine times more likely to repeat a grade, four times more likely to drop out of school and three times more likely to be placed in special education programs.
But OATHS--Organization Assisting the Homeless Student--wants to eliminate many or all of those challenges. OATHS was founded by Ben Skinner, a 2012 graduate of Bishop Kelly High School.
"When Ben told us about OATHS, we asked how we could help," said Hemmer. "And that's all it took. This is our second year of offering new styles for the new school year."
Haircuts are part of the solution. So are school buses: The Boise School District has arranged for buses to include City Light on their new routes. Additionally, each school kid at City Light--there are currently 85--has been outfitted with a new pair of jeans, shoes and adequate school supplies.
In next week's Boise Weekly, we'll profile Skinner, who turned a school project into one of the Treasure Valley's most prolific providers of services to the homeless. And as Skinner prepares to head east to begin his freshman year at Georgetown University, he says OATHS is quite sustainable and now in the hands of a new team of students ready to lend a helping hand to their peers.