DES MOINES, Iowa — Leia Dunn faced a lot of struggles in school causing her to drop out of the 8th grade. Shortly after, her mom lost her job, leaving them both homeless.
"It was really nerve racking because you didn't know where you were sleeping, where your next meal was from and everything," Dunn said.
Hundreds of kids experience homelessness in central Iowa. Des Moines Public School's homeless liaison Lynn Marchant claims she's seen a definite increase of unhoused students.
"We have about 1,100 students that are identified as of today. Where last year, we had almost that many at the end of the year. So, we're three months ahead of that trend of where it would have been last year, at the end of the year," Marchant said.
DMPS explained that what labels as homelessness can look different for different students.
"You can be doubled up, you can be living in a hotel or motel in a shelter, or unsheltered where you're living in a car or something different. Doubled up is probably our most common type of homelessness," Marchant said.
The need for assistance is not exclusive to the Des Moines Public School system. Central Iowa's Youth Shelter Services (YSS) said families are reaching out more this year for their assistance.
"In Des Moines, specifically, and Polk County, we work with roughly 600 to 650 youth a year in all of our programs, but it really is something where we're monitoring and seeing an increase in demand for services for homeless youth," said YSS Director Toby O'Berry.
YSS works with DMPS to help connect their students and families to resources with their street outreach team
"That team goes into, into public schools, to provide kind of that awareness and outreach of services for youth in the Des Moines public schools, as well as the teachers and staff to provide services and referrals for youth who either are at risk, or maybe families that are doubled up or at risk," O'Berry said.
Dunn said everyone can face the risk of homelessness at some point in their lives, sharing that a student you know could be silently affected.
"Anybody can be experiencing homelessness, and we don't know about it. So, I just think, to just keep an open mind about it," Dunn said. "And if you see someone struggling, you know, ask if they want help. Not everybody wants help, though, but everyone deserves help."
DMPS says they have a food pantry in every school within the district and they also offer free or low cost healthcare for parents and students in need, while YSS has beds, food and resources for youth in the 16 to 24 age range.