Thursday, April 15, 2010

How Do Homeless Kids Get To School?

From the Oregonlive.com website: For homeless kids, Portland school and its buses are constants in a world of chaos

Traffic is light and the sun still below the horizon as Penny Scrivner eases her yellow school bus to a stop in front of a Clackamas County apartment complex at 6:30 one recent morning.

Baby strollers sit in front of many doors, and toys litter the grass. Scrivner peers through the bus window, looking for activity.

"I never know if anyone will be here when I arrive," she says. "Last week, I came to get a seventh-grader, and he was gone."


She shakes her head. "Just vanished," she says. "I hope he's OK."


Scrivner, a retired Greyhound bus driver and former long-haul trucker, is one of four bus drivers for Portland's Community Transitional School, a private institution for students from homeless and poor families, nearly all of whom lead nomadic lives.


Together, the drivers rack up more than 1,300 miles a month, following routes that take them to cheap 82nd Avenue motels, domestic violence shelters, church basements and low-income apartments. Some kids live in cars.


Scrivner came to the Clackamas County complex to pick up the children of a single mother. Last year, the family moved 46 times.


Scrivner inches the bus through a large puddle to create a dry path from the apartment door to the warm bus.


"I'm not going to make those kids walk through that," Scrivner says.


An apartment door opens.


"All the kids on this bus are special," Scrivner says, adding that the bus will carry 22 kids this day, a full load. "I've picked up kids waiting on street corners. They don't have an address. I just know they'll be standing there waiting."


Scrivner has worked at the school for 18 months. At 64, she had planned to retire this year. The kids on the bus asked her to stay.


She spots a child in the apartment doorway and waves.


"I thought my life was tough," she says. "Then I saw how these kids lived."


She yanks on a handle to open the bus door.


"I see myself in these kids," she says. Her single mother abandoned Scrivner and two siblings when Scrivner was 2, and the children went to grandparents. After bouncing around a few California towns the extended family moved to Klamath Falls.


"I had a place to live," she says with a shrug. "But it was no picnic."


A small girl struggles up the bus steps.


"Hi, Penny," the girl calls as her brothers and sisters run toward the bus.


"I don't care where you all sit," Scrivner calls out in a no-nonsense voice more Greyhound than school bus. "Just be quiet."


When the last girl gets on, Scrivner closes the door.


"Penny," the girl asks, "can I have a hug?"


"Oh, honey," Scrivner says, "yes you can."


Satisfied, the girl buckles her seat belt and looks out the window. There's no one waving goodbye.


"Penny," she says, "I'm glad you drive this bus."


"Honey," Scrivner says, "I'm glad you're on this bus."


Then they're off for the next stop, a child's home at a motel.

Read the rest of the article.


See photos of Penny's bus


Learn more about the Transitional School.

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