A Rim Country group working to find homes for homeless teens now has money — so what they need most are homes.
So now people interested in housing a homeless teen can attend an information session about Payson Assisting Displaced Students (PADS) at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Payson First Church of the Nazarene, 200 E. Tyler Parkway.
Last year, volunteers launched PADS to help a growing number of homeless students in the community.
The number of homeless teens in the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) has risen by 112 percent since 2007 and now stands at a daunting 400.
Superintendent Casey O’Brien said on Saturday that the district has the highest percentage of homeless students in the state.
In 2010, the PUSD reported 363 homeless students in the district, an increase of 189 students from 2007. Most of those are living with friends or doubling up with other families.
For 2011, organizers estimated there were 400-plus homeless students with 16 percent of the student population eligible for homeless services.
“We are looking for shelter, a solid home situation where they know they can sleep at night, get a hot meal and focus on their education, not on where they are going to live, said Roger Kreimeyer, treasurer with PADS.
By definition, a homeless student is not just someone living in the forest or out of his or her vehicle. It also includes students living with friends, grandparents, in a trailer or in a home with more than one family.
PADS, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit, focuses on helping those students without a place to go. This can happen for many reasons, but commonly a parent is in jail, a student has been kicked out, they have run away or their parent is no longer able to afford a home.
Because Payson does not have a youth shelter, many of these students are forced to leave town.
In October, four homeless teens moved to the Valley where they had a better chance of survival, Kreimeyer said.
At the time, PADS had just formed and was not ready to place students. However, after months of work, PADS is ready to place students for the upcoming school year.
And funding is no longer an issue.
Shortly after a Roundup story on the program in February, Kreimeyer said the program received a $5,000 donation from a family trust that should keep the program running through the year. The group received an additional $3,000 in other donations.
With the program and funding in place, all that is left is getting host families, Kreimeyer said.
PADS expects its first round of homeless students when school starts in late July. At that time, registering students will have to disclose where they are living and if they need help.
Organizers don’t know how many students will need placement.
PADS has three host families already signed up, but Kreimeyer said the group needs more hosts so they have a better chance of making successful matches, with agreement from both the student and the host.
If a prospective host does not believe they can house a student, organizers will look for a new home.
Although Kreimeyer hopes most matches will result with students remaining until they graduate high school, the program allows for changes.
If a match doesn’t work out, PADS will find another placement.
While the program follows similar guidelines of a foster family, hosts don’t become legally responsible or take over guardianship.
All juvenile homeless students in the program will have parental approval to participate.
Hosts are only asked to provide a safe home for students to live.
PADS will help supplement meals, clothing, extracurricular school fees and medical needs.
Besides housing, hosts should have no-out-of-pocket expenses, Kreimeyer said.
And training is provided free with Penni Stonebrink, a certified foster parent.
Stonebrink will cover most of the situations prospective hosts could encounter with teens, from drinking to school issues, and how to handle them.
All students agree to strict behavior standards and are screened by PADS volunteers before being placed, Kreimeyer said.
After PADS makes a match, a student will stay with a host for a trial period. If that goes well, the student will stay with the family for an agreed upon time or until graduation.
Most students placed in the program are juniors or seniors.
Kreimeyer encourages anyone interested in hosting to attend Thursday’s information session. From families, retirees to single homeowners, anyone with a home is welcome to attend.
A background check and fingerprint clearance card are required to host a student.