DANVERS — Project Sunshine Club kicked off its fourth year on Monday, providing 50 homeless children living in Danvers motels with a free, fun, safe summer park program.
But even though the program is serving 10 more children than last year, a dozen more had to be left on a waiting list, with the prospect of spending their summer in cramped motel rooms.
The need this year turned out to be much greater than town officials had expected, especially considering that state officials had vowed to end the practice of housing homeless families in motels by this spring.
When town officials looked to determine the need for a Project Sunshine Club this summer, they learned that there are 132 homeless kids, ages 6 to 14 — the age range of the program — living in the motels.
“We were just blown away by that number,” said Danvers recreation director David Mountain, who said the town has worked to get as many children as possible into the program this year. In previous years, the number has been 60 to 70 children that age. Not every child signs up for the camp program, which had 40 children participate last year.
With so many children eligible this summer, however, town officials feared that about 80 would be unable to participate. They raised the enrollment limit and added a staff person, but all 50 slots were filled on the first day of sign-ups, Mountain said. After that, children were added to a waiting list, which now has 12 kids.
The problem is limited funding for staff and transportation, Mountain said. Forty children is about the capacity of a single school bus, and the decision was made to limit the program to one school bus. Doubling the number of buses would have meant doubling the program’s staff.
This is the only Danvers Recreation summer program that picks up and drops off children, Mountain said.