Funding might aid homeless students

Richmond County school officials will apply this week for a state grant that would help them further address the needs of homeless students -- a growing category that could total as many as 1,000 in three area counties.

 

The application will be submitted Wednesday and, if approved, could provide up to $70,000 for next school year, helping provide homeless students in Richmond County with assistance ranging from tutors at some shelters to money for school supplies, said Carol Rountree, the director of student services for the Richmond County School System.

School officials will know by the summer whether they are getting the grant, which Dr. Rountree said could also be used to fund training for school personnel, mainly new teachers, on how to address homeless students.

School officials and some community agencies say the issue is one they see all too often.

"A lot of them are living in motels," said Pat Bourke, who runs Julie's House, a transitional housing facility in Martinez for homeless women with children.

The problem worsened when gas and food prices went up and "they would get just so far behind they couldn't catch up," she said.

Homeless students often find themselves having to face such problems as transportation to classes and how to afford school supplies.

"Things that you normally don't worry about, all of a sudden it could be a major issue now," Dr. Rountree said.

Officials say the problem seems to be on the rise.

"We see an increased number because of (home) foreclosures," said Sherida Stroman, Aiken County's lead student services worker.

Richmond County social worker Linda Heggs said she's noticing the same trend.

BY THE NUMBERS

County school officials estimated the number of homeless students for each school year:

County - 2007-08 - 2008-09

Richmond - 173 - 104

Columbia - 193 - 250

Aiken - 475 - 480

Sources: Richmond, Columbia and Aiken county school officials

"A lot of those people are actually moving in with relatives," she said.

Richmond County officials said they tally their homeless-student count at the end of the school year with the help of area homeless shelters.

But the ability to get accurate information was diminished when state funding cuts forced the closure of a homeless shelter for youth, Child Enrichment, in 2007, Ms. Heggs said.

The school system registered 444 homeless students in the 2006-07 school year. Last year, it was able to document 173 homeless students.

This school year, from August to January, Ms. Heggs said, she knew of at least 104 homeless students, but she said that figure will grow, adding, "I can say there's been an increase (this school year). We've had a lot of calls for services."

In Columbia County, the count on Thursday was approximately 250 homeless students, and "we know there are more out there," said Jan Scarbary, the school system's homeless liaison.

At the end of last school year, she said there were 193 such students.

In Aiken County, the figures have been increasing in the past three school years -- from 319 in the 2005-06 school year to 325 in 2006-07 and 475 in 2007-08.

Sherida Stroman, the lead student services worker for Aiken County, said that by the end of this school year she expects to have as many as 480 homeless students.

Area schools have social workers who deal directly with homeless students.

And if a student becomes displaced and wants to continue attending the same school, the request is granted.

"You try to work with the parent to make it as less traumatic as you can," Dr. Rountree said, adding, "There is a resource, and we're anxious to be able to help these kids continue to learn."

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 823-3338 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.