The number of families experiencing homelessness in the Moscow School District may not have grown, but their needs have increased dramatically during the pandemic, administrators said.

“In comparison to other years, this year, I spent a large amount of my time trying to help and support the needs of our homeless population in the school district,” said Curriculum Director Carrie Brooks, who also serves as the district’s liaison to homeless students. “I estimate that it’s at least three times the amount of time that I have probably spent in the past.”

Brooks said the district can do little to help with certain needs like health care and housing but the Moscow community is home to multiple organizations willing to help. She said organizations like the nonprofit CHAS Health Center, Sojourners’ Alliance and Family Promise of the Palouse have been critical partners in meeting these needs.

Brooks said the district has been able to help a great deal with meeting students’ food and clothing needs. She said food pantries housed at individual schools have gone a long way toward meeting student’s nutrition needs and a smartphone app called Purposity has helped with much of the rest.

Purposity is a free app that anonymously connects students in need with individual donors from the community. A user can choose to sponsor a need — usually items like clothing and school supplies — and the item is automatically ordered from Amazon. She said the app has been particularly helpful in making sure students have winter clothing.

“We’ve been able to meet clothing needs not just for the children that are attending school, but even if they have preschoolers in the family or younger siblings in the family that we know are at home,” She said. “Getting especially like coats and hats and mittens and boots, and things like that during the winter months — that’s been a huge mission for us.”

Brooks said those who wish to help homeless students can do so by either downloading the Purposity app or by donating to one of the many local organizations like Sojourners’ and Family Promise that help to meet the needs of students in crisis.

In the Pullman School District, Assistant Superintendent Roberta Kramer said it has been difficult to track whether there has been an increase in need with students attending class remotely. She said that in-person contact is often a useful tool in detecting needs and referring students so they can get the appropriate help.

“It’s difficult for teachers or other staff members to identify some of those things online,” Kramer said. “You might see the kiddo but you don’t really know what environment they’re in, you’re not having that day to day conversation. That is often a source of referral.”

Kramer said Pullman families who are experiencing homelessness can always call the district offices if help and they will be referred to the appropriate resources. Echoing Brooks’s remarks, Kramer said those who wish to support homeless students in the district can direct donations to local organizations that help meet critical needs like the Community Action Center. Pullman does not participate in the Purposity app, she said.

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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