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How folks are helping homeless children in Shelby County Schools

Students experiencing homelessness is an ongoing issue within Shelby County Schools, but schools are ramping up resources to help families in need.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — The number of homeless students in Shelby County Schools on the surface looks like it's trending downward, but that's not an entirely accurate depiction. 

However, for families experiencing homelessness, the district is working to provide resources to help them in their situations. 

Alnora Page is a single mother of six with children between the ages of 2 and 14. 

"I was working at the daycare, but they shut back down when COVID numbers started rising up," Page said. 

Soon, being jobless turned into being homeless. 

"We're in a hotel with two beds," Page said. 

However, the hotel she's staying in with her children is in Whitehaven, which is far from their former North Memphis neighborhood. That's also where her children attend school at KIPP Memphis

"I would leave from out there around 6:30, and I wouldn't get out here until 7:30, the kids would be late... It disrupts their learning because they're late," Page said. 

Page and her family are now less than 1% of families at KIPP who are home-insecure. KIPP is a charter school network under Shelby County Schools. SCS administrators said they find families every day in similar situations to Page. 

"It's something that's not a new issue for our community, and it's not an issue that seems to be going away," said Dr. Angela Hargrave, the SCS Executive Director of Student Equity, Enrollment, and Discipline, or SEED. 

Dr. Hargrave said there is no clear pattern either. 

"We had some years where our numbers really were elevated, then the next year it would go down a little bit, " Dr. Hargrave said.  

In just the last five years, the numbers don't show a clear trend. 

During the 2017-2018 school year, the district identified 1,361 homeless students. That number went up to 2,454 in the 2018-2019 school year, and then it went back down the next year to 1,642. 

Last school year, the number of homeless students was only 648. And as of November of this school year, the district knows of 557 homeless students. Those numbers, though, are most likely lower than the true number of students living in unstable housing. 

"Sometimes the parents don't disclose that information, maybe because they're not aware that the law protects them," Dr. Hargrave said.

The law is called McKinney-Vento. It's federal money given to schools to help students experiencing homelessness, and each school in the district has a trained staff member dedicated to doing that work. 

"We make sure that they're enrolled in school, that they have their uniform clothing, school supplies, and transportation," Dr. Hargrave said. "All of those things that may be a barrier because of their living situation."

Hargrave also said it's a district wide problem and isn't concentrated to a certain part of the city. 

According to SCS, the schools with the highest homeless student population so far this school year are as follows:

  • American Way Middle: 22
  • Bruce Elementary: 21
  • Cordova High: 19
  • Havenview Middle: 18
  • Hamilton School: 17
  • Alcy Elementary: 13
  • Booker T Washington High: 12
  • Hamilton High: 12
  • Overton High: 10
  • Getwell Elementary: 9
  • Riverview School: 9
  • A Maceo Walker: 9

ABC24 asked the district if the pandemic was impacting the numbers, especially since the last two years seemingly had fewer students reporting homelessness. 

"I don't have enough information to see what the impact of COVID would have been on it because it was already a pretty serious issue in our community," Dr. Hargrave said. 

However, she admits some students did get lost. 

"There are some students who we have not been able to track down, but we exhaust all resources to be able to find students," Dr. Hargrave said. 

Page said she understands how that can happen because she knows a few friends who've had to move far away from their child's original school during this pandemic. 

"A lot were struggling already, and COVID just made it worse," Page said. 

Once KIPP became aware of Page's situation, they were able to connect her with resources to help. 

Mauris Blake also runs a non-profit organization in North Memphis called 'Building Better Lives'. He collects donations to hand out to families like Page. He said during the winter months they especially need winter gear such as hats, coats, scarves, and gloves. If you'd like to help, you can drop off donations at 1111 Springdale Street.