Escalating costs of housing and food are being credited at least in part with an increase in the number of families in transition including children who may be homeless or separated from their families, according to the Students & Families in Transition Program in Hernando County.
“We have a lot of families that are employed, but they are just not making enough,” said Shanika Figueroa Rodriguez, coordinator of the program in Hernando County Schools.
The Students & Families in Transition identifies students in the Hernando County School District and their families who are currently experiencing housing challenges. The program helps connect them with resources ranging from application paperwork to school-appropriate clothing. The statistics were revealed in a workshop presented by Rodriguez Oct. 25 to the Hernando County School Board.
According to Rodriguez, a total of 833 students and families in transition were identified in Hernando County schools during the 2021-2022 school year. Of those, 90 were so-called unaccompanied youth who are not living with relatives and may be in the Florida foster program, while 61 were identified as unaccompanied high school age youth.
A total of 77 percent were young people living so-called “doubled-up,” that is living with friends or relatives after losing a permanent residence or experiencing some other economic hardship, 10 percent were living in a hotel or motel, 7 percent were residing in a shelter, 2 percent were living in a camper or in a campground and 4 percent were living in a car or some other substandard housing situation.
“Almost 80 percent of the kids who are being helped every year are living with someone, but are considered homeless because they don’t have keys,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve had families living in sheds and storage units, and have had 10 people living in a one-bathroom house.”
As of October 2022, the program has already identified 520 students and families in transition 51 of whom are unaccompanied youth and 34 have been identified as unaccompanied high school youth.
Of those 520 students, 81 percent were in doubled-up situations, 6 percent residing in hotels or motels, 7 percent were living in a shelter, 3 percent were living in a camper or campground and 3 percent were identified as living in a shelter.
Aside from economics, divorce, separation, death, disasters such as house fires, domestic drug use or abuse and an influx of refugees from Ukraine, Venezuela, and Guatemala are all contributing to the increase of families in transition, Rodriguez said.
So is the number of students who are living completely on their own.
“Kids are getting kicked out,” she said. “We’re seeing this population skyrocket.”
The program responds by providing students with backpacks, school supplies, clothing including shoes, socks and underwear.
“Anything they need to start school,” Rodriguez said.
Once in school, the Students & Families in Transition Program provides academic and extracurricular fees, excuses for absence or tardiness and annual physical and shot vouchers.
The program helps kids be able to participate in student government, honor societies, clubs, band, chorus, athletics and field trips.
“For those in transitional families, (these activities are) an outlet for them,” Rodriguez told the panel. “Some kids just don’t want to go home so they hang around school longer – sometimes parents want them to do that too.”
Finally, Rodriguez and her staff stay in touch with the schools to make sure students who qualify for the program benefit from it.
“We do follow up on every referral we get,” she said.
The Hernando County Students & Families in Transition Program is governed by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which is the primary federal legislation addressing the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness in U.S. public schools.
Funding is derived a from federal Title Nine grant that forbids sex-based harassment or discrimination in all federally assisted school programs and activities. Title 1 ensures that underprivileged students receive high quality educational opportunities. The program receives no state or local funding, Rodriguez said. For more information about the Hernando County program visit SFIT informational presentation 10_2022_ACC (4).pdf.