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Education Desk: When Students Find Themselves Homeless


A new study finds there are 12,000 homeless students in central Florida. In Orange County there’s a system in place to help these students.

From our Education Desk, 90.7’s Catherine Welch caught up with Christina Savino who runs the program helping homeless students enrolled in Orange County Public Schools.

Savino: We follow best practice that's set forth by the Department of Education where we utilize a student residency questionnaire as part of our enrollment packet. So any new student that comes to our schools to enroll, the family fills out a residency questionnaire that asks questions about their current housing circumstance. We also disperse that residency questionnaire to all of the students in our district within the first week of school, because we know it's not just the new students that are coming to our campuses that we need to identify. We also want to look at the third grader that's been with us for three years but may have had a house change or housing loss.

Welch: So do these kids come to school just needing help with something basic like taking a shower?

Savino: There are definitely varying circumstances. We absolutely have found that there are families that are needing those emergency, basic needs and that we try to connect them to community resources. Our schools do a lot to help in those circumstances. But we have families that it’s really a situational circumstance that lend them into a precarious housing situation. And so maybe it's not hygiene products or showers that are needed, but just a supportive learning environment a consistent place that they can come every day versus experiencing school mobility moving as they move housing.

Welch: What you hear from teachers in the classroom, what are the challenges academically and the needs of these children have in the classroom?

Savino:  We see a spectrum of different students. So we do have students that are high functioning and high achieving that unfortunately are experiencing homelessness. But I will say that as a whole looking at some of our data and statistics the children are behind in school, behind in standardized testing, have increased absenteeism, they often have increased behavior problems.  And so these are the symptoms that we see of homelessness in the classroom.

Welch:  Is there a student who is in a housing situation that you met that maybe their story sticks with you?

Savino:  Some that stick with me the most are those that are unaccompanied, meaning that they're not with a parent or guardian. It's often not economic hardship that lands the student in that situation. A leading cause of homelessness with our unaccompanied homeless youth is often family conflict. And those who become successful in school despite their housing circumstance really kind of rise to the top for me that, it's just incredible that they can find such success in adversity.

Welch:  You're also now, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, dealing with an influx of homeless students from Puerto Rico what if you've been seeing since the storm?

We have experienced some new families in our area that are coming to our schools looking to enroll that do not have documentation usually required during enrollment. And so we are assisting with opening our doors, getting them enrolled even if documentation is missing. We’ve seen the start of it, but I feel that this is the start, just the beginning. I did look at some statistics and we have about 250 students that are identified as experiencing homelessness due to hurricane.