About 35 people stood in a half circle in the snow and dark in front of 19-year-old Toree Marcano as she sang about the time she spent homeless.
“When the rain is pouring in on me and the wind is blowing you down, I would do it all to help you out — to make you feel my love,” she sang at the Candlelight Vigil for Homeless Youth on Saturday in Soldotna’s Farnsworth Park.
Love, the Kenai resident said, was the one thing she needed most during the three months she spent in her car last winter, more than food or warmth.
“You need someone to say that they are there for you,” she said.
Marcano’s story is not an isolated case, said Kelly King, homeless liaison for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
By the end of the school year last year, King said 301 adolescents were enrolled in KPBSD’s Student’s in Transition Program for Homeless Children and Youth.
This year already, King said 145 adolescents are enrolled in the program, and if the program continues to grow at that rate, she said it will likely break 300 again.
Their normal range is 200 to 250 students, she said.
Debbie Michael and her husband, Dave, have been organizing the vigils for three years now to raise awareness about homeless adolescents on the Kenai Peninsula. But, despite high enrollment in KPBSD’s program, Michael said it is still a relatively unknown issue.
“It’s kind of crazy,” the Soldotna resident said. “I think it’s just the demographics. Just because we’re more rural and spread out and don’t have a city hub, they’re still around.”
While Michael said the issue is still in the dark, some community members are aware, King said.
“It’s hard to measure tangible outcomes, but I do think awareness is increasing in general through out the community,” she said. “We’ve had a lot more individuals and business stepping up to try and assist where they can.”
Also, the For Rest Fund — a fund to raise money to build a teen shelter on the Peninsula — has grown by thousands, Michael said.
The fund started with $500 in 2010. Now it has grown to about $5,200, Michael said.
Marcano’s story, however, has a happy ending.
She now has a house in Kenai and she bought a new car. She also is expecting a baby.
“It’s a success story,” she said. “Everything’s better now.”
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.