Homeless in Craig

School officials say it's a problem, and are stepping in



That's the term used to describe a dozen Craig youths who were kicked out of their homes and are now considered homeless.

"People don't like the term," Beckey Grabowski said. "But that's what it feels like, and that's what it is."

Grabowski moved to Craig in October and became a specialist with the School to Work Alliance Program. With 20 years experience in child welfare, Grabowski soon became aware of what appeared to be an unknown problem in Moffat County School District.

Since November, she and SWAP coordinator Delaine Voloshin have been in a whirlwind, identifying homeless youth and finding them food, shelter and toiletries.

Now they are asking for help.

Grabowski and Voloshin are hosting a Homeless Youth Action Group meeting Wednesday morning to call agencies, businesses and individuals to help a previously unidentified population.

"What we want is people to come to that table and make a commitment of what they're willing to do," Grabowski said. "While we're the catalysts behind it, I'm hoping something more permanent and more appropriate will come out of this."

On her own

Ashley Engelke, 18, was the first homeless youth identified in Craig.

After her foster parents asked her to leave in October, Engelke spent one night in a horse trailer before moving in with a friend's relatives.

"It was better for me if I wasn't there -- for my well-being and my future," Engelke said.

She revealed her situation to a teacher at Moffat County High School and was overwhelmed at the response from teachers, organizations and strangers.

"This community just stepped up and supported me," she said.

Now back on her feet -- she graduates high school in May and is enrolled at Colorado Northwestern Community College -- Engelke wants to do the same for other homeless teens.

"I know how it is, to not know where you're going to go next," Engelke said.

She's assisting Grabowski and Voloshin get the word out about Craig's homeless population.

It's a problem that was unknown to many residents, and one that's misunderstood, Voloshin said.

"They're not downtown in an alley, under a bridge or on a park bench, and I think that's what people think of as homeless," she said.

She said Craig's homeless youth often "couch surf," or sleep on sofas, futons or floors of anyone who will let them. They stay there a month, a week or less.

And many times they are without basic needs.

Come together

After helping Engelke, teachers referred other homeless youth to Grabowski. She conducted a survey of teachers in December and ended up with 10 names of teens who fit the Colorado Department of Education's definition of homeless -- basically someone without a permanent residence.

With winter break approaching, Grabowski asked Moffat County United Way and Christmas for Kids for assistance. The organizations gathered about $300 worth of clothes, toiletries, food and gifts for each of the homeless youth.

Grabowski said she was surprised at the students' reactions.

"Deodorant and toothpaste, that's what the kids were most thankful for," Grabowski said. "So that tells you where these kids are in terms of needs."

Grabowski currently has a list of 14 homeless youth -- 11 of whom are "throwaways." The rest are runaways.

She added that the notion that homeless youth are troublemakers or "punks" is untrue.

"They're not bad kids," Grabowski said. "They're just trying to get by. Being a teenager is hard enough, and now they're without a home."

She hopes for a significant response at Wednesday's meeting. She believes the contributions of one person can make a difference, but that the community needs to rally together to find a solution.

"I think our community is in a place to solve this," Grabowski said. "The adage, 'It takes a village,' really rings true."

For more information on the Homeless Youth Action Group, call Voloshin at 824-3246.

Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or mperry@craigdailypress.com.

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