AUGUSTA, GA (WFXG) - No child should ever have to worry about where they will lay their head at night or where their next meal will come from. However, that is the case for many of children and families in the CSRA.
Life for homeless families is not easy and the number of children who are homeless here may surprise you. In May, the Loyd family found themselves in a difficult situation. “His hours were cut down. I was barley bringing in income and so we lost the place we were in," explains Laura Loyd.
Bringing the family of six including one toddler and three school age children to the Salvation Army Shelter. The past few months, Leroy and Laura Loyd have been working to put their family back together. Laura is a nurse’s aide but Leroy is still struggling to find a job. Their goal is to be back on their feet by the end of the year but there is one fear.
“Coming back... that’s the part that worries me the most because I’ve seen what it has done to me, my family, and my kids and I honestly do not want to do that again to them. I don’t want to put us back in the same situation,”, explains Mrs. Loyd.
Leroy Loyd says the one thing that has remained consistent in their children’s lives is school. This is a fact for more than 600 other homeless children in the area. In Richmond County, 341 students are homeless, 203 students are without a home in Columbia County, and in Aiken County 130 students are homeless. By the end of the year, those numbers in all areas are expected to grow by a combined 69%.
“I know that our numbers are higher, that concerns me," says Sherida Stroman who is the Lead Student Service Worker for Aiken County Public Schools. Stroman says there are students who walk the tough road alone without any family. “Not all students leave home because they are delinquent and they don’t want to abide by the rules. There are a lot of dynamics that go on in families that sometimes you are not privy to . .you just don’t know.”
Stroman knows some of the children are trying to escape drug abuse within the home or domestic violence. Others were simply being abandoned by their parents. Every homeless child in Salvation Army Shelter is examined case by case to determine their needs: school supplies, clothes, hygiene items or food. Which are all necessities that the Loyd family for now does not have to worry about. "Use the resources you have until you can do something better.”
It’s not always easy identifying homeless students, some are afraid or too ashamed to speak up. In Columbia County, administrators say the challenge is finding and identifying students with what they call “insecure housing” or “doubling up”. Not all students live in shelters, some live with relatives, others move from place to place.
“It’s our community responsibility to take notice of these children and to be that person in their lives and encourage them and to let them know that this is a period and it will pass," explains Michelle Sherman who is the Assistant Superintendent for Columbia County Schools.
This way the community joins the school districts efforts. For nearly 30 years, federal law McKinney-Vento Act has been ensuring that homeless students have the same access to school as anyone else. The law requires that each school district designate a liaison to ensure enforcement. Under the federal law, districts must perform outreach to housing unstable students multiple times during the school year. If a student is struggling with grades, then after school programs can be recommended. Currently tutoring is available at the Salvation Army Shelter.
“It’s the most rewarding experience to see these students at graduation to graduate and then you knew what they went through all year long to get to that point, to walk across the stage, to be handed that diploma," says Stroman.
For the Loyds they are already imagining their children’s future. “A bright one where they can learn from this experience and when they grow up and have kids of their own they won’t end up in the same situation we were in,” says Loyd. The Loyd family is looking forward to the new year filled with new beginnings.
School district leaders say that there are two big concern that needs attention from community leaders are reliable transportation and affordable housing for transitioning families.