Hidden in plain sight: Hundreds of students are homeless in FM area
FARGO—Hundreds of students every day in the metro are considered homeless.
But beyond the numbers are the faces and stories of kids and families searching for a permanent place to call home.
One 6-year-old boy is pulling back the curtain, and sharing his experience of finally getting a place to call his own.
For Caleb Van Order, he finally has his own space to play his favorite game: Connect 4.
The game requires him to strategically plan his moves along the way.
It's a little like how he's gone through school, a different strategy though, a quieter one.
"It was easy to keep it a secret, it was easy," said Caleb.
His secret was that just a few weeks ago, he lived at the homeless shelter, Churches United.
"It was pretty hard," said Caleb.
Caleb isn't alone.
There are 287 others who have the same secret, many hoping and praying no one finds out.
"We're probably identifying about half," said Jan Anderson, Fargo Public Schools.
This year, Jan Anderson has identified 130 students in Fargo's district who are homeless.
About half of those kids are 'doubling up', meaning they stay with friends or extended family.
A quarter of them live in hotels, and the rest in shelters.
"The kids are great kids, they have a lot of resilience. They want to graduate. They are doing as much as they can to get through school," said Anderson.
Jan, known to some of the kids as 'Mom,' helps them achieve that goal by offering clothes from 'Jan's Closet' and homemade meals from her office.
"I have families and kids everyday fill bags, and take it home with them. I have kids who come into the school in the morning that are hungry, and they will come down during break and grab and go," said Anderson.
The hard work is helping put these kids on the right track.
About half of last year's homeless High School Seniors went on to enroll in some type of secondary education.
"They're coming to school, trying to graduate. They're carrying a full load," said Anderson.
But getting there, is a challenge.
Constantly moving means losing credit hours between schools.
They even face the challenge of finding their next meal, between homework and classes.
A stable home, is what so many, even some of the youngest, like Caleb, hope for.
And one Caleb finally got.
"I was excited to be in our own house, and that I got to have my own room and bed," said Caleb.
He has a place to call his own, which is boosting his schoolwork, according to mom, Misty Van Van Order.
"He is back on track. And he is so smart. He is testing at a third grade reading level," said Misty Van Order.
It also changed his attitude in the hallways and in class.
"Once we moved in here, his behavior completely changed. And we were having issues, lots of behaviour issues before. It's amazing. I am so proud of him," said Misty.
This Connect 4 loving 6-year-old now has plenty of things to be proud of.
Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Act Act from 1987, any child without a permanent place to stay is considered homeless, which could mean not being on a lease, staying at a hotel, or having no permanent residence.