Roanoke schools see increase in homeless students

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - Roanoke City Public Schools are taking to social media to raise awareness and get help for a growing problem, homeless students.

The school system set up a Help the Homeless page to get support for a rising number of students who don't have a permanent place to go after school. It's not all the school system is doing to make sure homelessness isn't a barrier to an education.

You wouldn't know it by looking at them but many of the students at Fallon Park Elementary are homeless.

"Sometimes we see families and students who come in with nothing more than a suitcase and what they have on their backs," said principal Cynthia Delp.

It's no accident homeless students enrolled in Roanoke City Public Schools don't stand out. Fallon Park's Clothing Closet gives students a discreet way to get what they need when they arrive.

"They will go to our clothes closet and they will put on clothes," Delp explained. "They'll spend the day in those clothes so that they do not look any different from any of the other students."

There is however, increased concern as the problem of students who are homeless grows.

"In fact, it's growing worse," said Superintendent Dr. Rita Bishop. "We estimate about 250 kids right now. That's way up over last year."

Barely four weeks into a new school year, Roanoke City identified nearly 30 more students kids as homeless than at this same point last year. That includes students in shelters, like the Roanoke Rescue Mission which is within school limits, students staying with family, going from couch to couch, living in a car and in one instance, living in a tent not far from school.

Bishop says when kids bounce from place to place, their assigned school could change but the city works to keep that from happening.

"In Roanoke City, we keep them in the first school if it all possible." The school system provides transportation to and from school so students can have a more stable environment at school.

Despite a recovering economy, Bishop cites a shortage of affordable housing and jobs for unskilled workers as reasons many Roanoke families still struggle but the school system works to break the cycle.

"I just see my job as ensuring that their children get the skills that they need to break that cycle," Bishop said.

Educators, now helping students learn and providing other necessities like food and clothing and counseling.