In 2009, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs estimated there were more than 21,000 homeless people in the state — nearly 20 percent higher than in 2008.
That same year, the department estimated more than 240 homeless people were in Hall County, 230 who had no shelter at all.
Fast forward to 2012 and the number of students deemed homeless in Gainesville and Hall County Schools has increased, giving social workers limited options on how to accommodate the transient students.
“It’s pretty much not a big surprise to me because we’ve been dealing with this for years now,” said Jarod Anderson, Gainesville City Schools director of learning support.
During the 2009-2010 school year, the city school system identified 39 homeless students. The following year, there were 44 such students identified.
This year, the system has enrolled at least 21 new homeless students — on top of those already in the system.
“We have had an increase from last year,” said Anderson. “Those are just new enrollees from this year. I can’t guarantee how many of those from last year are still here because they’re such a transient population.”
Hall County Schools enrolled 73 homeless students over the 2010-2011 school year. That number jumped to 115 for this year.
But school officials said, the term “homeless” for students is broader than some may think. Students are defined as homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act, federal legislation to set guidelines for providing assistance to homeless students.
That act defines as homeless any child sharing housing due to economic hardship or loss of housing, living in motels, transitional shelters and cars or substandard houses, among others.
“It defines homelessness as individuals who lack fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence for any number of reasons,” Anderson said. “That could be staying in a shelter, in a motel due to the loss of housing or economic hardships.”
For instance, about half of Gainesville’s newly enrolled homeless population lives in motels in the area.
During the 2007-2008 school year, the Georgia Department of Education reported around 15,700 homeless children in the state’s schools.
And, Anderson said, the system has some avenues in place to assist such students and their families, but many times cannot provide what they are really looking for.
“A challenge for us is we’re very limited in terms of the types of assistance we can offer,” Anderson said. “One time we had a homeless coordinator and received grant money from the state. That money doesn’t really lend itself to prevent homelessness or keep kids from getting into or out of a homeless situation.
“Most of the money that we would get can only be used for educational purposes.”
The school will help students with school supplies, clothes and other educational necessities.
They cannot, however, help with rent, bills or transportation outside of the district.
“Unfortunately, a lot of things we can’t assist with, so we have to try and refer out to community agencies,” said Anderson. “Sometimes we have luck with that, sometimes we don’t. I think we’ve been pretty good this year of either meeting the needs or just connecting them with agencies that can.”
But for the most part, Anderson said, students in that situation tend to be “pretty resilient.”
“Most of those families are pretty resilient,” he said. “We just try to help out to the best of our ability while we have them here at school and if there are ways we can help stabilize their home situation, then we can try and do that.”