Graduation and homelessness haunt CMS students

by Tori Hamby

As many as 4,900 children in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are listed as homeless and are often unsure where they will sleep each night.

The number is a jump from the 4,453 count recorded at the end of the 2009-10 school year, according to Kay Carreira, a specialist who helps CMS educate homeless students. The data comes from a yearly CMS report on the homeless. The number of homeless students for the 2012-13 school year won’t be counted until the school year wraps up in May.

Carreira heads CMS’ McKinney-Vento program, a result of the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987. The federal program aims to provide stability to students whose housing situations might be precarious, Carreira said.

The program allows students who move into a homeless shelter or temporary housing to attend their home school to keep changes in their home life from disrupting their education.

“If a student who attended North Mecklenburg High became homeless and moved into the Salvation Army homeless shelter in west Mecklenburg, the school district would provide transportation to North Meck from the shelter to minimize the disruption in that student’s life,” Carreira said. .

The program also serves families living in hotels or families who temporarily move in with friends or relatives while trying to secure permanent housing, she added.

“We know situations that cause people to lose their homes can strike anyone at anytime,” Carreira said. “Who knows that one thing that could happen to any of us that could place us in that situation?”

Each school employees a counselor or social worker to identify the signs of homelessness. Parents who don’t have the documents needed to enroll their children at a new school – such as a lease agreement or driver’s license that lists the parents’ new residency – are red flags that a family might be facing a questionable housing situation.

Those counselors and social workers also provide homeless families with information about service providers, including nonprofits, churches or businesses.

A Child’s Place, located in uptown Charlotte, helps CMS serve its homeless population by providing food, tutoring services, school uniforms, mentors, medical and dental services and school supplies to homeless children.

The organization is limited to help select schools, mostly located in the central and western parts of the school district, as well as some schools in the University City area, due to budget constraints.

“It costs us about $100,000 to send a team into a school,” CP’s executive director Annabelle Suddreth said, “so we can only serve about 35 out of the district’s 158 schools.”

She noted that the homeless student problem is district-wide and that the more affluent districts in the northern and southern parts of the county have homeless students, just fewer of them. Also, she contends, she is a misconception that homelessness is not a problem in these areas.

Suddreth believes that the number of homeless students CMS is a conservative estimate. It doesn’t include children not yet in kindergarten or older teens.

She estimates that about 1,700 additional homeless children are enrolled in CMS.

“The … figure does not include middle and high school students who are really good at keeping their most guarded secrets.”

By The Numbers

4,900 The total number of homeless students CMS officials identified during the 2011-12 school year

1,700 The number of unidentified homeless students that A Child’s Place, a Charlotte nonprofit that aids homeless students, estimates are enrolled in CMS

$100,000 How much money it costs ACP to place a support team in one school

35 out of 158 The number of CMS schools served by ACP

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