Number of Homeless Students on the Rise

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As of March 30, there were 169 cases of homeless students reported in Alexandrias schools. That number, up slightly from just the week before, is already higher than the total of 163 at the end of the 2007-2008 school year.

Its a statistic that Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Morton Sherman called startling at a recent budget workshop between the city and the schools but, most critically, is one that is almost certainly going to increase, according to school officials.

Its a trend that is mirrored in school systems throughout the area, with Arlington and Fairfax reporting ever-increasing numbers as well.

In some cases students are living with family members in Alexandria and the surrounding towns, while others have been forced to live in hotels or motels. With foreclosures on the rise, apartment stock is proving too expensive for lower income families.

Others, still, are living in homeless shelters with their families shelters that, in both Alexandria and Arlington, are all full and have waiting lists, according to officials in each jurisdiction.

We have more middle class parents becoming homeless due to the housing situation,said Arnecia Moody, the ACPS homeless liaison. Our numbers are up for the middle class and lower-middle class population because theres not enough affordable housing for anyone, really, and especially the poor.

For all, though, the hardship, whether existing prior to the current recession or not, is all too real.
One homeless student, who chose to be kept anonymous for this article and is now living in one of the citys shelters with his family, said his family was forced to move out of their home seven months ago because they could not pay the rent.

In the time since, the student has been receiving free or reduced price lunches, and, in spite of the anxiety that comes with not having a home of ones own to return to, the student said that school is generally a bright spot of normalcy each day.

Fifty-six percent of our kids are eligible for free and reduced lunch while Arlington is in the 30s, Sherman said. Our needs for our children are increasing daily.

According to the Arlington public schools website, that number stood at about 29.5 percent as of February 18.

Moreover, the total number of homeless students and others receiving free or reduced price lunch in Alexandria might not be completely accurate.

I think the real problem is that we dont really know if thats the right number, School Board Chair Yvonne Folkerts said, going on to say that she has heard stories of students in cafeterias not wanting to be identified or singled out in pursuing the provisions to which they are entitled.

Beyond the nutritional services provided for students, the schools also provide transportation for students that have been pushed out of their homes even some going into Maryland to live with family in order to help students have a bit more steadiness during a fraught period in their lives, Moody said.

It takes a big chunk of our funds to help the kids maintain some stability and stay at their school of origin, Moody said.

The schools employ school buses, public transportation and private transportation like taxis, in some cases, to help keep students at the school with their friends, rather than forcing them to transfer to a new school.

Moody said that when the funds are available, the schools help with providing students with clothing, breakfast, and medical resources for unaccompanied minors. Money for these programs comes from the ACPS operating budget, and grants and donations from outside the school system.

The main goal, however, is to continue to provide education and normalcy.

I think its our job to make sure that the kids get to school, get their education and that we do what we can to give them some level of normalcy in the course of their day, Folkerts said.

Traditionally, the number of homeless students increases from the beginning of a given school year to the end of the term, due to the nature of the system in which students and their families are required to report their situation, according to Moody.

At the start of the 2008-2009 school year, there were 47 homeless students in the system, rising to 169 by the end of March.

Arlington where the overall population is not marked to the same degree by extremes in families income had 195 reported homeless students in the school system as of January 30, according to the schools homeless liaison Susan Miller.

Taking into consideration Arlingtons larger enrollment (19,527) to Alexandrias school enrollment (11,225) as of September 2008, the increasing number of homeless students makes up a greater portion of the ACPS student body than that of the Arlington school population.

The primary difference between this school year and the previous year, Moody said, was that, greater overall numbers aside, more homeless students are remaining in the school system and not as many are floating from school to school.

While the sad fact remains that the numbers of homeless students in Alexandria schools are rising, school staff are doing as much as they can to help alleviate some of the stress.

It saddens me that weve got so many more kids than weve had in the past who are homeless, but I know that our social workers and our guidance counselors are working overtime to help those kids and address their needs, Folkerts said.

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