by Victor Lopez
ECTOR COUNTY--It's not only shocking, it's heartbreaking. Sitting right next to your child in class could be a kid with no place to call home. It's a real problem that's growing in our towns.
But there is hope and help for those students.
Pretty much everyone imagines the same picture, when you hear the word homeless. But that's all changing and so is the definition of the word. Sadly, the number of school aged kids that are being affected is on the rise. Fortunately for them, so is the help they need to stay in school.
"A lot of people think it's an alcoholic or a mentally ill man. The majority of the homeless situations are families, in Texas and across the United States," Scott Randloph, Lead Social Worker for ECISD's Student Assistance Services Department, said.
You could never tell by just looking at them, kids going on about their daily lives as if nothing were different, but hiding a painful and sometimes shameful secret. They have no place to call home.
According to Randloph, in Ector County, "We've got a little over 500 right now, that are classified as homeless. I suspect it's more than that. We aren't able to catch all of them all the time, so I suspect it's more like 600 to 700."
Randloph says domestic violence and divorce play a big part. But the situations change as the students get older, "You kind of see different trends as the kids get into 16,17 year olds. You'll see more, what they call couch surfing. Kids that don't live at home anymore that will stay from friend to friend to friend. The majority of them, I would say, are families that are doubled up or living in motels or having to move from place to place to place."
Some take more extreme measures like living in their cars or in a camp ground.
Because of all the moving, many children get enrolled in several schools during the same year, putting them back 4-6 months on their school work, for every move. But thanks to federal assistance, school districts are doing their part to prevent that.
"If you become homeless during the school year, you can stay at your home campus and the school district must provide the transportation back to that home campus, no matter how far away you move within Ector County," Randolph explained.
They also help out with clothes, school supplies, even free lunches. Randolph says the main goal is to provide stability in the chaotic life of the student, while at the same time, dispelling a few myths, "We try not use that word, homeless, when we're dealing with families. We're trying not to stigmatize them. I think the United States is just now becoming aware of how big a problem it is."