Editor’s note: This report is part one in a two-part series concerning homeless students in Calhoun and Gordon County schools and the community resources which continue to aid in supporting them and their families. The names of the students in this story have been withheld so they could share their stories openly. Part two will run in Wednesday’s Calhoun Times and focuses on how the community can help these kids.
For weeks after being evicted from his home as a senior in high school, one Gordon County student kept word of this life-altering change to himself. He feared what others would think and how they would react. And though he had little more than a backpack’s worth of belongings, he kept up the appearance as if nothing was different.
It was not another student who he eventually confided in, rather a lunchroom worker at his school. Within a day, he said, what he told her had spread from her to school counselors, social workers and administration. He eventually was lead to Molly Townsend, the school social worker and homeless liaison for Gordon County Schools.
“When they don’t have anywhere to go, it’s just survival,” she said. “They’re just lucky enough to have a place to live,” let alone what they need to cover the costs of feeding and clothing themselves.
The reality for this student is one nearly 700 students in Calhoun and Gordon County schools faced last school year — they are homeless. But they are homeless in a much less visible way than popularly believed.
“The public definitely has a misconception of what homelessness is,” said Calhoun City Schools Director of Student Services Amanda Schutz, who is also a campus social worker and homeless liaison.
It is not kids sleeping on park benches in the public’s eye, Schutz said. But it’s staying in a shed behind someone’s house, crashing on a relative’s couch or bunching up in a motel room rented night to night, she continued.
And how they end up in these situations vary just as much, Townsend added. It can be the primary earner in a household losing their job, an abusive parent or a teenager getting kicked out following an argument, she continued.
But as defined by the federal McKinney-Vento Act — which provides resources and services to students so they can continue to attend their school, aiming to keep their education on track — homeless children and youths are those without “a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” They can include those living in motels, campgrounds, emergency or transitional shelters, cars, public spaces or substandard housing, according to information provided by Gordon County Schools.
Particularly for high school students in these situations, Schutz said, “you may not ever know what their situation is,” because they may have their own transportation or never display signs of being without a home.
Townsend explained the main goal in responding to the students’ situations is “to remove all barriers to make sure they stay in school.” And for this one Gordon County student she helped last year, it meant leading him back to the path of following his longtime goal of moving on to college after high school. It means finding them a more permanent place to stay or ensuring they have transportation to school, sharing employment opportunities for older students or directing families to services to provide more stable economic and housing conditions, she continued.
And when the time comes for making that next step, it becomes about that ultimate goal, making the dreams of students a reality. And in the case of this student, who said all of his aspirations had at one moment been lost, had at the next — with the support afforded to him — they came into fruition. He was accepted into the University of Georgia, which he currently attends as a freshman.