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Saghalie Middle School counselor lifts up the homeless

Elaine McDonald is a counselor at Saghalie Middle School in Federal Way. To learn more or help with her cause, call (253) 945-5008. - Kyra Low/The Mirror
Elaine McDonald is a counselor at Saghalie Middle School in Federal Way. To learn more or help with her cause, call (253) 945-5008.
— image credit: Kyra Low/The Mirror

Elaine McDonald may not have wings, but for many local families, the Saghalie Middle School counselor is nothing short of a miracle worker.

The school year has barely begun, but McDonald is already working with multiple students and their families who are now homeless.

“How is a kid going to pass his courses when he doesn’t know where he is going to sleep that night?” McDonald said.

At first, McDonald tried to find help in Federal Way, but realized assistance was lacking.

“When I started trying to find resources, I discovered there aren’t any,” McDonald said.

For weeks, McDonald has been working with local agencies and businesses to obtain bus passes and motel vouchers for these families. These resources are becoming more scarce, and with the economy in trouble, many resources are just not available, McDonald said.

McDonald has looked for temporary housing in neighboring cities with little luck. Shelters everywhere are filled to capacity.

“I’ve called all of them,” she said.

She has run into more roadblocks than she ever imagined. McDonald recalls one family with multiple children that is having trouble getting into a shelter. The oldest child is 18 but still in high school. Legally he is considered an adult and many places won’t take him, she said.

Most of these families don’t have vehicles, which makes it difficult for some students to get to school, she said. This is especially true for those being sheltered in other cities.

What McDonald hasn’t been able to find in resources, she has found from her own pocketbook. She has been paying for phone cards, bus passes and providing transportation when needed.

McDonald doesn’t foresee any kind of reimbursement.

“I figure God is going to bless me. He knows what I’m doing,” McDonald said.

But McDonald has had some success in finding help. Super 8 motel, located on Pacific Highway South, recently worked with her to provide rooms at a more affordable cost.

Kimberly Oyen, sales manager for Super 8, said that with the help of a local church, they were able to work out an arrangement for the family to stay until they find an apartment.

“I wouldn’t want to turn away anyone with kids,” Oyen said.

McDonald said that her principal, Damon Hunter, and Superintendent Tom Murphy have given her full support and are happy to work with anyone able to help.

“If it weren’t for donations and people with big hearts, we’d be sunk,” McDonald said.

McDonald is working with seven families who are currently dealing with homelessness. She believes there are more out there, but it seems parents are afraid to ask for help out of fear of losing their kids. Parents seem to think Child Protective Services (CPS) will be involved, she said.

McDonald assures families that everything is confidential and they having nothing to worry about.

According to the Child Welfare League of America, CPS will intervene when it has reason to believe a child is being abused or neglected. Neglect is defined as “failure to provide for a child’s basic needs.”

The CWLA Web site goes on to explain that “not having enough money to take care of a child’s needs does not mean a parent is neglectful. It may mean that the parent needs assistance.”

Contact writer: belliott@fedwaymirror.com

To learn more or help, contact Elaine McDonald at (253) 945-5008.

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