Now that the start of the school year is approaching, Malden-based agency Housing Families will be distributing approximately 350 backpacks equipped with school supplies to once-homeless children. The backpacks were acquired through Housing Families’ annual backpack drive, which ran from May to early August, and from various donations throughout the year.
Founded in 1986 to ameliorate homelessness—especially in the Greater Boston Area—Housing Families has been soliciting donations from individuals, organizations and companies for the backpack drive. The donated supplies range from stationery items to dictionaries to gift cards. The latter can be spent by Housing Families on more school supplies, according to Housing Families spokesperson Patty Kelly.
“We have found through the years that it’s good to start in May, when people are actually leaving school and getting ready for summer,” Kelly said. “That way, throughout the summer months, people tend to buy things when they go on sale, and they’re aware that we’re doing our backpack drive.”
Housing Families serves approximately 600 children, who make up a significant proportion of the average 400 families Housing Families sees every year. The backpacks received will be given to the children as part of the agency’s Children Services program, which includes tutoring and summer enrichment activities.
With large concentrations in Malden, Everett and Medford, homeless families undergo administrative processes at the Department of Transitional Assistance before being aided through Housing Families, said Kelly.
“The way we serve families is we offer some of our families … rent in our affordable housing units; we also have temporary emergency shelters for our families as well,” Kelly said. “So they’re technically housed through our programming here, and we distribute these backpacks here in our program.”
One of the backpack drive’s partners this year was Sydney Paige, a backpack company that participated in the program for the first time. For every backpack sold by Sydney Paige, another would be donated to the drive, according to Sydney Paige’s CEO Courtney Brockmeyer.
“We want to be sure [children] have the tools to be able to do their work and succeed, and it’s all aimed for higher test scores, better attitudes, better involvement and a higher graduation rate,” Brockmeyer said. “It’s fantastic that they’re doing the drive… It would be great to have more awareness around the issue.”
Winchester Savings Bank, another of Housing Families’ partners, collected approximately five backpacks filled with supplies for the backpack drive through its employees. The bank had previously participated in Housing Families’ backpack drives and volunteering events, said Amy Timmerman, the bank’s vice president and director of marketing.
“I would say the main motivation is that the mission is an exceptionally worthy one: the idea of ending family homelessness in the Greater Boston Area,” Timmerman said. “But [Housing Families does not] just tackle one aspect of it: It’s not just about trying to provide housing; it’s also about all the different variables that go into being homeless in this time and in this place.”
Other entities that participated in the backpack drive include Wiley Publishing, L and L Services and the Malden Chamber of Commerce, Kelly confirmed in an email.
A 2015 Department of Housing and Urban Development report found that individuals under the age of 18 comprise approximately a quarter of all homeless people nationwide. In Massachusetts, local surveyors tallied a total of 21,135 homeless people—of those, 593 are unsheltered—representing 2.8 percent of the Commonwealth’s population and scoring the second lowest homelessness rate among 50 states. However, the report also found a 39.7 percent increase in homeless individuals in Massachusetts since 2007.