Greta Hinderliter is the McKinney-Vento homeless liaison for the Natrona County School District and has been in that role for 17 years. McKinney-Vento is the federal law that allows for public education of a homeless child. She is a member of the Central Wyoming Homeless Collaborative, which is an ongoing group “that really comes in to play when we do the Point in Time Homeless Count every January,” she said. The annual event is this Friday.
Please tell us about Casper’s Point in Time Homeless Count: It is HUD-mandated and will go from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27. King’s Corner on the corner of Second and Beech streets is our central base, although we will have many groups of no less than three out doing street counts. They’ll be riding city buses, walking the river by the soccer and baseball fields and down by the Parkway Plaza, by the library in the downtown area, truck stops ... we’ll be really covering the whole county, including Mills and Evansville. When we find someone, they can either fill out the form with street outreach if they don’t care to come in where we would feed them, or we invite them to King’s Corner, where breakfast, lunch, and dinner is fed to them. It will serve as our welcome center for the day. We’ll have blankets and sleeping bags, socks, mittens and coats for them and maybe some granola bars and a little bit of food that we can hand out to folks.
And the importance of the count? This one day impacts the federal funds that are sent to our state to help with housing. Depending on the numbers, the better job we do with identification, the more money our state receives.
Would you tell us about the homeless children in the school district? For me in my job, I identify children who live in campers, motels, shelters or are doubled up as homeless. HUD does not include motels or doubled up in the way they count homeless, but as a county, we want to know how many people we can not shelter on a nightly basis. How many beds are available on a nightly basis versus ones who are not able to get in a shelter.
This year, HUD has asked us to really focus on unaccompanied youth, teens up to 21 who are without parent or guardian. Those children hopefully are in school. I have 47 homeless unaccompanied youth right now who are in school. Most of them are doubled up with other families. They are totally on their own, trying to come to school, be in activities, maybe even juggle a job in between all that. They are trying to balance it all and they are not getting to be a child. In the district, we have 250 homeless children identified so far this year since August when school started. The 47 is definitely up from past years, the 250 is a little bit up.
What is the cause of the rise in unaccompanied youth? Honestly, this is the year you can meet somebody on the internet and you just leave your child in Casper, Wyoming. They are either getting out of prison and leaving these children or they are meeting someone on the internet in another state and leaving their child behind. They just take off and leave. I have one that just happened — Dad went to another state to bail some woman he doesn’t even know out of jail and he’s not coming back. It’s very, very sad, but I also have some really resilient teens who realize education is their key out of a life out of poverty.
How will you find those who identify as homeless? The teams will all have someone who has done the count before, who has experience. On the form that we have to fill out, there are some pretty invasive questions. These are people — yes, they are homeless — but you have to treat them with respect. The first question on the HUD form is ‘where did you sleep last night?’ The form also asks about mental health, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS. If they choose to answer, that’s wonderful. If they choose not to, we respect that as well.
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