I’ve written a column or two about Sedalia’s less fortunate population in my day, but when I read Sedalia Democrat reporter Faith Bemiss’ recent story about the homeless students that attend Sedalia School District 200 I realized that there was a tragic angle that I hadn’t fully considered.
As of the writing of that Feb. 13 story, the official homeless student count was 545, a number that is so much lower than the other reported numbers in recent years that it’s practically being dismissed as the result of a fallible system. It would be nice to stand behind a podium and present this as the real number to project the image of progress and success but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case.
But to the average Sedvillian on the street, 545 homeless students probably sounds plenty high. There are those who would think that number sounds high for total number of local homeless people, much less just those who are trying to complete their state education while also dealing with a tumultuous living situation.
As far I’m concerned the great kids who are managing their education without a dedicated place to call home are heroes and should serve as an inspiration to those who might be taking their education for granted because they have a bed and a room to go home to.
There is value in education, and for many learning new things and new skills is one of the best ways to escape the cycle of poverty. In fact, people of all creeds, races, ages, genders and income levels can always improve themselves by acquiring more information. You might not think of it very often, but the restored Sedalia Public Library is still open and full of interesting things. Knowledge is for everyone.
And these homeless students know that all too well: childhood and adolescent homelessness too often lead to long term homelessness and after years of being on the fringes of society and looking in, it is probably hard to even imagine a better life.
If I was in grade school and I was suddenly thrust into an impossible financial situation I can’t say I would be able to handle that situation as well as most of these kids do. Imagine having to find a new bus stop every few days, or holding back your tears when the prompt on the board casually features a question about the home or family you don’t have. Imagine doing your homework on a stump in the woods or in a public bathroom. That shows commitment, dedication and a willingness to work toward a better future.
Inner strength is one of the reasons they are able to do it day after day. Sure, the good people at Sedalia School District 200 do what they can and these kids probably get a little help from various organizations and individuals around town, but it’s still a long way from easy. Maybe going to school each day is easier than being pursued around the city by social workers and truant officers.
There’s a basic educational apparatus that is provided for every child regardless of how difficult their financial situation or how inconsistent their home life might be and it is inspiring to see these students who are dealing with serious situations stand up and demand that they get their fair share of education, too.
Travis McMullen is a longtime Sedalia resident who shares his views on the city through his weekly Democrat column.