Homeless Kids in Fla Schools on the Rise

By: Kathleen Haughney, The News Service of Florida
By: Kathleen Haughney, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Dec. 6, 2010 --

With record highs in unemployment and thousands of Floridians forced out of their homes because they can’t pay the mortgage, public schools are seeing a huge rise in the number of homeless students.

In the 2002-2003 school year, the state counted 6,201 students as homeless. By 2009-2010, that number had risen to 49,104.

Florida posted an 11.9 percent unemployment rate for October, despite signs of stabilization and growth in the state. And state economists have projected that unemployment is likely to remain in the double digits until the second quarter of 2012.

“You know, we have some really difficult economic times now, the mortgage crisis and people losing their jobs,” said Lorraine Allen, director of the state homeless education program for the Florida Department of Education.

The rise in the number of homeless students has been a challenge for schools, which must respond despite budget cuts many systems have faced. Stimulus money helped a little bit, but that is running out, said Barbara Duffield, policy director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

Every school must have a homeless liaison, though it’s rarely the person’s entire job. And schools often must devote extra attention to such students, because they’re extremely at-risk.

“From the student perspective, losing your housing and experiencing homeless, it puts all of child development at risk,” said Duffield. “If you don’t have a regular place to stay, it’s really hard to focus in the classroom on learning. You may not know what’s going to happen when you get out of school.”

But schools, Duffield said, often become the most stable part in a youth’s life if he or she becomes homeless.

“Schools really become one of the most important parts of their safety net,” she said.

A homeless student is defined as one who lacks a permanent, night time residence. So, a child being bounced among relatives or family friends would also qualify.

“It’s not necessarily living in a shelter,” Allen said.

Students who are declared homeless are enrolled in the free lunch program and given aid in other ways, such as clothing and transportation assistance. If a student winds up living with a relative or friend outside of the original school district, the child can still be transported to the home school.

Yet, despite the assistance, schools often cannot blunt the impact of becoming homeless, said
Allen. She said school districts and the state have been able to do a better job in recent years in identifying students who are classified as homeless, which has also contributed to the jump in numbers over the past seven years.

Allen said the department and schools individually are trying to give as much support as they can to help the students overcome the academic obstacles by offering extra tutoring and providing school supplies. They are, however, banned by federal law from setting up specific academic programs for homeless students – an effort to prevent those students from being stigmatized.


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  • by Vicki Location: Tally on Dec 9, 2010 at 12:22 PM
    This was my child last year. My husband & I lost our jobs last year & had to move from NC with our last $$ to live w/family here in Tally. We arrived 1 day before school started & I have to say the school was wonderful. They kept our sitation private, helped her get free lunches & then gave a small voucher to goodwill to buy some clothes. Our situation was no doing of our own,just a bad economy. I can tell you the school system was a big help to us. However the government that you all keep fussing about paying for losers? Don't worry,the folks getting help have absolutely nothing! We couldnt get assistance w/food stamps, medicare/medicaide or anything because we have investments & 2 cars. The only way people get help is if they own less than $1500 in assets. Didn't matter that we were starving. Salvation Army & others limit how many times you get free food. So any of you know anyone w/less than $1500 in assets? Me either, like i said, you have to have nothing to get help
  • by just a guy Location: Panhandle on Dec 8, 2010 at 12:56 AM
    I know there are children all over the world that need help, we see it on tv everyday. I think its time to help our children and families here! We cannot do one thing to help others if we are living on the streets ourselves.
  • by Barack Rackem Obama Location: Magnolia Screet on Dec 7, 2010 at 01:20 PM
    Sorry but i've got to help haiti,the rest of the world and to top it off i'm just to busy bankrupting this country to care.
  • by Anonymous on Dec 7, 2010 at 12:37 PM
    Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! In the middle of the longest recession homelessness is on the rise. I agree that kids do not deserve to be homeless. I would even go further and say that kids don't deserve to be abused, murdered, raped, or worse, but in reality all these thing happen to people (including children). The question is what are you going to do about it. Don't rely on government because they have proven that they can't deal with it.
  • by Child Of Homeless Parents on Dec 7, 2010 at 11:23 AM
    It's okay to be irresponsible like my parents. The government will make sure it's not that bad.
  • by juswonderin Location: everywhere on Dec 7, 2010 at 08:34 AM
    AMEN JW
  • by JW Location: TALLAHASSEE on Dec 7, 2010 at 08:04 AM
    MAYBE IF WE CONCENTRATE ON WHAT JESUS FORETOLD ABOUT THE COMING OF THE KINGDOM AND STOP PUTTING FAITH IN EARTHLY GOVERNMENTS WHICH HAVE PROVEN TO BE UNABLE TO DO ANYTHING LASTING AS LONG AS THERE HAS BEEN A GOVERNMENT WE WOULD SEE TRUE HOPE IN A PARADISE EARTH AS JEHOVAH MEANT IT TO BE
  • by T Location: P on Dec 7, 2010 at 07:16 AM
    I agree, I am all for world-wide aid, but we need to prioritize our own citizens first! There are so many people in this country desperate for help right now and we just keep going more and more into debt sending money that could be helping these people to other countries.
  • by eb Location: cville on Dec 7, 2010 at 05:52 AM
    This is a shame. No matter what decisions or what has happened to the parents, kids never deserve to be homeless. This is another issue that "our government" is showing their true colors. We should be helping our children on our own soil before we offer to help another country!!! Washington... get your heads out your butt and do something to correct this!!!! I struggle day to day to make sure that my children still have a home, food, clothing, etc. I wish I had the means to help, but I'm barely making it myself. Something needs to be done asap!
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