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Homeless students during the coronavirus pandemic: 'We have to make sure they're not forgotten'

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With Iredell-Statesville Schools canceling classes until at least March 27 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, officials are working to make sure that the needs of homeless students are being met, said Tonya Reid, I-SS social worker. Reid is also the McKinney-Vento homeless education program liaison.

Reid said that homeless families often rely on childcare and food for their children through the school system.

“We have to make sure they’re not forgotten,” Reid said.

The McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth Assistance is federal legislation designed to guarantee an education for homeless students across the country. Reid said that the legislation is implemented on the county level.

The legislation defines homeless children and youth as individuals who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.

“We remove those things that hinder children from learning, if possible,” Reid said. “Everything else around that child can be chaotic, because of the homelessness; education doesn’t have to be.”

Out of the 20,134 students in I-SS last school year, 364 were identified as living in homeless situations, Reid said, for a total of 212 individual families. For this year, 264 students have been identified so far.

Reid said that the virus will most likely be a major factor in identifying further students as they won’t physically be at the schools.

She also said that the impact of the virus will affect academic performance because the instructional packets will be difficult to deliver to homeless families as they are scattered throughout the district and often in transition between shelters.

Reid said that this will be worse during the economic turmoil amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s always going to be a group of people that are going to be in the have-nots, and these are not just adults. These can often times include youth,” Reid said.

Reid said that homeless families, where the parents work, will also be affected as they rely on the school system for child care. She said I-SS currently doesn’t have a system in place to provide child care for those families.

In terms of providing food, I-SS is working with families that don’t have transportation to receive breakfast and lunch meals for their children. Reid said that I-SS social workers are working to identify the location of these families and deliver the food to them.

These are weekday meals, and Reid said it was important for the community to give the families access to weekend meals.

“Babies’ stomachs are growling on the weekend, too,” Reid said.

Reid said that the restrictions in relation to the virus in general could make homelessness worse in Iredell County.

“Homelessness affects so much, whether you get an addiction or you’re just scraping by to get an education. For your parents who are working, do you have a job or not have a job?

“Will it lead to more social ills such as addictions or mental health illnesses. I could see that spiking,” Reid said.

During the 2008-09 recession, the number of homeless students went from 109 the previous year to 294. The number of homeless students hasn’t gone below that since then. “These are trying times, and true colors of people are going to show through,” Reid said.

“How helpful are you? How creative are you? How compassionate are you for others? You’re always going to have your have-nots. How willing are you to help those in need?”

Reid said that the community can help by providing hair-care services, clothing, food items, transportation, personal hygiene items, gift cards, household/laundry cleaning items, extra-curricular activities participation (supplies, fees, etc.), school supplies, student fees, emergency medical needs, hotel accommodation cost, financial donations, basic supplies for college start (bedding, computer, school supplies, clothing, etc.) and providing meals for families in hotel

To donate, contact Reid by phone at 704-832-2549 or by email at treid@iss.k12.nc.us.

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