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Spectrum News 1 Interview with Robin Stuht and Audrey Buchanan

BELOIT, Wis. — Beloit staff who work with kids experiencing homelessness say numbers have jumped over the last 18 months, as they do everything they can to help.

Data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showed homelessness had risen 15% pre-pandemic. The most recent data is from 2020, and shows that on any given day, 4,500 Wisconsinites are dealing with homelessness.  

An office at Beloit Learning Academy is Robin Stuht’s home base. She’s the district’s homeless liaison. It’s her job to keep tabs on kids experiencing homelessness.

“They don't know where they're gonna stay at night. They couch surf, they'll stay at this friend’s, this family member’s, all these different places,” Stuht said, specifically of unaccompanied teens who aren’t in the custody of an adult. “They’re vulnerable to human trafficking, labor trafficking, in order to have places to stay.” 

Stuht and school social worker Audrey Buchanan serve about 250 students from their office. The district has identified at least 300 students currently experiencing homelessness, scattered throughout multiple schools.

That office has become their safe space. During our interview, a student came in to get tampons. Two more joined Stuht to get drinks from the fridge and chat.

“When they leave here, those hours that they’re not in school, they’re really stressful,” Stuht said. “I had a student this morning, he walked here two and a half miles in the rain.” 

Many of the kids they’re helping have experienced trauma of some kind.

“When I was going to motels during COVID when school was out, and case-managing the families there, a majority of those families were fleeing domestic violence,” she said. “When there’s not enough money, things get heated.”

On top of that, there are lots of kids who may not even realize the trauma they’ve experienced until other parts of life get a little more stable. “Sexual assault of children under the age of 18 went up 500% during COVID.”

Stuht said a shortage of rental housing in Beloit is putting more families at risk. The rental housing shortage is one thing, but almost none of what’s available qualifies as affordable housing. She’s spent the last 18 months visiting families at motels and in parking lots, as they live in their cars.

In their office, Stuht and Buchanan have what they call “everything but the housing”. They’ve got food, personal care products, drinks, clothing, blankets and even gas cards.

The two of them rave about the kids they see every day. They said kids experiencing homelessness are misunderstood, and have so much to offer. Many of them have had to grow up too fast, but it’s given them perspective that their peers don’t have. 

“When a kid has a bad situation at home, and they’re able to come here, and discuss it, they’re able to get some resources and some tools to be able to better deal with those situations,” Buchanan said.

“Kids come in, and once they get to know us, they know just come in and get what you need,” Stuht said. 

They use that space to try to give homeless students everything they possibly can.

“There’s a lot of days I go home crying,” Stuht said. “But it’s okay. The next day I get up, and at least I can do something.” 

Every school in the district has resources like Stuht and Buchanan’s office does, although they may not be as extensive.

They could always use donations, including laundry supplies like rolls of quarters and detergent pods. To help out, email and we can get you in touch.

Source: Spectrum News 1