Number of homeless students in Roanoke City schools nearly doubl - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Number of homeless students in Roanoke City schools nearly doubles

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The school year has come to an end for many Virginia students. Sadly, some are leaving school without a permanent place to call home.
It's been a tough school year for Nathan Haupt. In addition to homework and peer pressure, the 13 year old is dealing with the stresses of being homeless.

"It's hard" he said. "I don't have a real home. This is the only place I can go for three meals a day."

Nathan and his grandmother live at the Roanoke Rescue Mission. The 7th grader is among a growing number of homeless students. WSLS 10 checked the facts and found that over the past several years the numbers have nearly double .During the 2009-2010 school year, educators counted 386 homeless students in Roanoke City schools. By 2012-2013, the number rose to 585. This school year, more than 620 Roanoke City students were considered homeless. Superintendent Dr. Rita Bishop tells us many people don't recognize the severity of the problem.

"When I say we have 600 plus homeless kids, people look at me like I'm insane" said Dr. Bishop. "It's hard to wrap your head around that unless you live where we live and you understand."

In an effort to understand the magnitude of the situation, Roanoke City schools have a homeless program coordinator, Malora Horn. She works full-time to identify, track and provide services homeless students.

"We continue to follow those children" said Horn. "So we do a lot of case management and follow up trying to keep up with where the families are."
Tracking homeless students can be a challenge because a vast majority are doubled up with family members, while others do what's known as couch surfing.

"The student goes from one house to the next to the next" said Dr. Bishop. "Trying to just find a place to sleep."

In an effort to address the problem, schools have backpack programs, receive community donations and work closely with the Rescue Mission and other local organizations. While those resources help throughout the school year, Dr. Bishop sees it as a short-term fix. She said long-term solutions like higher graduation rates and workforce development are needed.

"If Roanoke prospers and if our career and technical education numbers continue to grow and our students get great jobs then the next generation should have a better deal than this generation" she said.

In the meantime, Nathan will finish this school year at the rescue mission. He hopes things get better for his family this summer.

"I'd like to have a home where it is more peaceful" he said. "Me and my grandma. I just want it to be what it used to be"

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