Digging Deeper: Why Hundreds of Dane County families can't check - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Digging Deeper: Why Hundreds of Dane County families can't check-out of motel life

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A year ago, through the eyes of Dane County's youngest, 27 News took you into the lives of the invisible population, hundreds of kids living in limbo in motels.

"Yeah, the average age of a homeless person in Madison, is eight years of age," Dane County Boys & Girls Club President Michael Johnson said as he walked the small length of a $40 Madison motel room ($1,200 per month).

While $40 doesn't buy much, Johnson says many of these locations across the city aren't ideal for kids to grow up in. In some cases, cigarette burns on the bed sheets and stains on the pillow are the norm. He says most of the kids in these situations end up sleeping on the floor.

National data from the U.S. Department of Education, consistent with Dane County's numbers for the 2015-16 year, show seven percent of homeless youth lived in a motel. However, Housing and Urban Development doesn't consider kids living in motels truly homeless.

"Identifying our kids is always a challenge," Madison Schools Transition Education Program's Jani Koester said.

She said it's because most motel rooms are more than $1000 a month. With no credit or poor credit, Madison School's Transitional Education Program, or TEP, staff know hundreds of hard-working families can't check out of the lifestyle.

"It's stunning, it is to think about how that would impact the rest of your life if that much of your income had to go to housing," Madison Schools District TEP staff worker Kim Stalker-Herron said.

It's why the district started their own version of a mini St. Vincent de Paul. It's set up at district headquarters so school social workers can pick up and hand out necessities to kids in crisis.

"We need a centralized place to house resources," Madison Schools Homeless & Foster Liaison Jennifer Waldner said. The donation closet, social care workers and your taxpayer federal dollars from the McKinney Vento Act all ensure kids living in motels get to school, even if it means a yellow taxi cab instead of a school bus.

"So if a child needs to bounce from place to place with their family because they don't have a stable place to stay, we keep them stable in their setting as much as possible," Waldner said.

After our first story aired last year, donations flooded TEP to help the district buy new washers and dryers at Lincoln Elementary. Soon two others will be installed this year bringing the total to six for social workers to support homeless kids and their families.

"So that students can do their laundry, we are trying to meet basic needs when they are not being met outside of the school."

The district knows because even if families find affordable housing, getting a leg up is difficult.

"To pay the bills, to take care of things to have good relationships with landlords and neighbors, there are so many challenges you don't think about," Stalker-Herron said.

Especially when it comes the furnishings that make a home a home.

'We often hear that they have nothing. They have no beds, no couch, they are sitting on the floor, they have nothing. So to try and transition into a home...is a very overwhelming feeling for a lot of our families," she added.

In reality, all these families want is to stay together. It's why four years ago, Dane County's Boys & Girls Club started an emergency assistance fund, but sadly, that money is almost gone.

"If I had to guess, it will be all out of money by March or April," Johnson said.

This, as the district says it's seeing even more kids living the motel life this year.

"These are beautiful kids who are living in challenging circumstances," Johnson said.

If you'd like to help the Madison School District TEP, the office is accepting winter clothing and warm items. They are also seeking donations to grow their clean laundry effort, here.

You can help replenish the Boys & Girls Club Emergency fund, here.

You can still donate to R'mani's family through the Boys & Girls Club, here. Just let them know you would like the funds to go to his family.

Lili's Family is accepting donations, here.

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