Ashwaubenon teachers learn what it's like to be homeless

ASHWAUBENON, Wis. (WBAY) - Nearly 100 teachers and staff at Valley View Elementary in Ashwaubenon have a new perspective on what it's like to live in poverty or be homeless.

cot at homeless shelter

More than 700 children are considered homeless in Brown County this year. Fifty-two are in Ashwaubenon.

In a Target 2 investigation in November, we found hundreds of families living in cramped hotels or shelters, or on the streets. Many are working but can't find affordable housing, or they face obstacles like not having child care or transportation.

Ashwaubenon schools want teachers to understand the challenges.

For this simulation, the gym inside Valley View Elementary became its own little city.

The staff was given profiles of families in poverty and told the navigate the basics of food, child care and housing.

It didn't take long for many to end up in shelters or jail.

"We were just doing everything we could to keep our house and survive," said one staff member in the jail.

"It was really powerful. Really powerful," first-grade teacher Ashley Gonwa said. "I had the role of being a student in the simulation, and it really opened my eyes to all the stress that they're feeling from home."

"I was a single mom in this situation with two kids, and it just felt like... I didn't know where to go first or what to do first. I could never pay my bills in full for the month, and that was really frustrating," Amanda Paul, and Engish Language Learner teacher, said.

Those frustrations last a few hours for the staff, but for one woman it's all very real.

"I'm hearing the discussions and I'm nodding my head saying, 'Yeah, I've been there,'" Allison said.

We met Allison back in November when she showed us how her family of five is sleeping in a cramped hotel room.

She asked not to be identified then -- some family and friends didn't know about their situation -- but now Allison is becoming a voice for other families and trying to help people understand the daily struggles.

"I've been in that situation of losing my job. What bill do you pay? Honestly, even pawning stuff temporarily and not knowing if you're going to be able to pay to get it back," Allison said.

They're not trying to become experts, but staff say they have a new perspective.

"It's something i'll have to consider every day with some of the families that I work with," Paul said.

Teachers say now they understand it's not a lack of caring when a parent can't attend parent-teacher conferences.

Associated Principal Andy Bake said. "Hopefully maybe more after the simulation will offer to meet a family in their home or public place near their home, things like that that just help to remove some of those barriers."

And give all kids the best chance at success.

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