There’s no place like homelessness

It’s summer.  School is out and most students are thankful.

But what if your family is homeless? For those students, being in school means you have a shelter during the day for nine months out of the year, you can count on two hot meals a day, and you have daily interaction with your friends.

But what happens to these students when school lets out for the summer?  We’re exploring homelessness from a different perspective in a News 3 Special Report:  “There’s No Place Like Homelessness.”

Would it surprise you to learn that Muscogee County has over 1,300 students who are experiencing homelessness?  That’s the fifth highest number in the state.

Dr. Trikella Nelson is the Homeless Liaison for the Muscogee County School District.  She says, “People don’t realize that we do have students within our community that honestly don’t know where they’re going to stay and where they’re going to lie their heads at night.”

Lashanda is a homeless mother of two who agreed to talk to News 3 for this story.

She told us, “Right now in my life at this time I’m in a transitional period where I am trying to find permanent housing.  I live with my aunt.”

And that’s a qualifying factor for being considered homeless according to the federal government.  While Lashanda searches for a job, she has turned to the Muscogee County School District for assistance.  That’s where Dr. Nelson and her staff come into play.  Dr. Nelson’s duties are defined under a federal law called the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act that ensures immediate enrollment and educational stability for homeless children.

Dr. Nelson says, “If a family comes in, whether it’s a grandparent or a mother or actually a student who self identifies, we will assess what their needs are.”

After meeting with Lashanda, Dr. Nelson’s team saw that enrolling her children in the Boys and Girls Club for the summer would be a big help.  The kids are there for about five hours each day.  “The program provides not only social skills for the children, they provide enrichment classes, art classes.  If I hadn’t have had the Boys and Girls Club and the McKinney-Vento program to offer me this chance, I probably wouldn’t be able to do job searches as thoroughly as I am now,” says Lashanda.

Students without a permanent home can still count on getting breakfast and lunch at a nearby school during the summer months.  That’s another service provided under the McKinney-Vento program, but it does have its limitations.

Dr. Nelson points out, “Unfortunately, we don’t have funding to pay for housing, but we do link them to resources like the Homeless Resource Network and Home for Good.”

Pat Frey is the executive director of Home for Good.  They are charged with implementing the city’s ten-year plan to end homelessness.  “The face of homelessness is no longer the middle-aged male as it has been in years past,” according to Frey.

A young homeless mother of two agreed to tell us her story without showing her face on camera.  For the purpose of this story, we will call her name Pat.

“Right now I’m in a difficult spot because for the first time ever I’m currently homeless,” Pat said.  “I was actually sleeping in my car because all the shelters were full and they didn’t have availability for a family of three.  I found myself going to like a Wal-Mart where I knew they had security, and I would partially let down my windows.  And I did that for like a whole week before a shelter became available.”

Pat was finally able to get placed in the Trinity House women’s shelter operated by SafeHouse Ministries.  She says, “They provide food.  They provide shelter.  They help out with job searches as well.  Overall, it’s a blessing to be there because they provide so many different things.  They even helped me get my children in daycare.”

Pat Frey with Home for Good says Pat and her situation is becoming more and more typical every day.  “Just in our community alone last year when we did our annual point-in-time count like we do every January, we saw a 65% increase in the number of children who are facing homelessness in our community in one year.”

Pat adds that the young lady we just heard from was very, very fortunate to find shelter as quickly as she did.  The need for accommodations for families is greater than the supply.

As far as homeless students are concerned, the Muscogee County School District’s McKinney-Vento program offers many more services than described in this story.  For example, the district offers before and after school care so parents can look for work or shelter for the night.  The district provides school supplies and uniforms, plus caps and gowns for seniors.  College and career readiness workshops are also provided.

For additional information about the program, contact the Muscogee County School District.

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