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As Ranks of Homeless Pupils Grow, Communities Provide Aid

At least 150 K-12 students in the San Angelo, Texas, Independent School District go "home" each night to the Salvation Army's Red Shield Lodge, a shabby nearby motel, or sleep on the floor next to parents living with a friend or relative. By day, they more or less blend in, taking math and English together with other children.

They are among approximately 1 million homeless schoolchildren in America, a number that has risen with the economic hard times of the last few years but that is difficult to pinpoint. For these children, school is a lifeline, and that lifeline would not be there without partnerships involving school systems, the federal government, and community charities and volunteers.

"That is something that's definitely been eye-opening to me. We're not just talking about people living on the streets," Tony Priest, a regional liaison for the Education Service Center for San Angelo, told a local newspaper this week. "I think we're looking, with the economy, at an increase in this population. This can happen to anybody. People can lose their jobs and are not finding other jobs."

While schools provide federally funded free breakfasts and lunches, clothing, and services under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and Title I, they are aided by partners in the community such as the Salvation Army and the Concho Valley Homeless Planning Coalition in San Angelo. Health, food, and shelter services are a major part of what coalition members—which include churches and clinics—help school district social service workers provide to homeless families.

However, given the stigma attached to homelessness and the difficulty of even identifying homeless schoolchildren—since many move with parents from one temporary residence to another—the primary task is to determine who is homeless and alert them to services that they can receive. As Connie Myers, chairman of the coalition, said: "They don't want to tell anybody. They have to face the mountain, and the mountain is admitting you have a problem and seeking help."

Resources for, and information about, homeless schoolchildren can be found through the National Center for Homeless Education at the University of North Carolina's SERVE Center.

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