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Back to School Secret

New Homeless Back-to-School Problem

Five-year-old Angela will get ready for kindergarten every weekday morning this fall, just like any other student. But, unlike most of her peers, she will be getting ready at the Mission’s Family Life Center.

A National Crisis

In March, a report by the National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH) estimated one in 50 American children is homeless. The National Alliance to End Homelessness predicts up to 3.4 million Americans will become homeless in 2009—a 35 percent increase since the recession began in December 2007—with most of those displaced being families.

Barbara Duffield, Policy Director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, says the number of students without a permanent address has increased dramatically during the 2008-09 school year. “Over the last two years we’ve seen the numbers just skyrocket,” she says.

Homeless Kids in Tennessee

The numbers of homeless children residing in Tennessee are growing every year. “There’s a hidden homeless population,” says Rachel Woods with the Tennessee Department of Education. “Stereo-typically, we think homeless means someone who is physically walking the streets. But for families who lose their homes, or their apartments, who might live in their car for awhile, or move in with a relative or friend and be sleeping on a sofa or in a spare bedroom, they too are considered homeless.”

The numbers of homeless children receiving help from the Nashville Rescue Mission’s Family Life Center has increased dramatically. In the first half of 2009, the Mission averaged 18 children a night. However, some nights there were as many as 29 children.

“Home, if we were fortunate, is a place that provides stability, it’s a place to feel safe,” said Mary Crutcher, Director of the Family Life Center. “When a child is missing that element, there are lots of things that can transpire—fearfulness and behaviors that are associated with that.”

Unpacking the Backpacks

Starting school is intimidating, but it is especially hard for children without permanent homes. The Mission has a fund set up for school supplies. The fund is used so children can pick out a pair of shoes and choose their own backpacks, already filled with the necessary supplies.

We can’t offer all of these basic items without your help. Most backpacks are donated and filled with supplies given by you and other generous donors.

These things make a difference. “It makes their transition a little easier,” says Crutcher. “Just knowing someone cares is comforting. You should see the look on the faces of these kids when they get their backpacks. They are so happy.”

When kids stay at the Family Life Center, Crutcher said, we make sure they have transportation, school supplies and clothing that doesn’t identify them as homeless. “It’s our aim to make sure they aren’t singled out as homeless,” she said. “In fact, we don’t want the school bus pulling up to the shelter at the beginning and end of every day; then every kid on that bus identifies them as homeless. Instead they are picked up on the corner with careful supervision.”

So this year, when you’re checking off your back-to-school list, please consider these children and grab an extra folder, pack of paper or backpack and donate it to the Mission. It may seem like a small thing, but it will help these kids feel more secure as they head back to school.

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