Augusta, Georgia (WRDW / WAGT) – They are the youngest victims of the homeless crisis in August. Young, helpless faces who are tired, weary and in need of rest, shelter and food. And needs education.
“They say they really want to go home, and they don’t realize we don’t have a home now,” said one mother with four children, including a one-month-old baby we found living in a broken car, trying to reach to a homeless shelter in the city center.
She admits that her primary school son misses school simply because of a lack of transportation to deliver him there. Not because she doesn’t see the need for his education … it’s a painful case of falling dominoes.
“We know that just two days a month of absenteeism can affect a child’s ability to learn to read,” says Dr. Kim Barker, an associate professor at Augusta University School of Education.
Children linger on the fault line in education and fall into the gaps.
For six months, our ITEAM investigated the reasons for the sharp rise in the number of homeless people in August. We tell stories behind faces on the street, from mental illness and addiction to the lack of affordable housing and young people who are aging with foster parents.
Now we introduce you to another person on the street, the youngest and most innocent, who has nowhere to go and no way to school. To get a complete picture of the crisis for our children, we collaborated with the USC Annenberg Health Journalism Center for this story.
During our investigation we wanted to find out how homelessness affects our youngest and most innocent part of the population, our local children. Our investigation has shown that the number of homeless children in schools has declined despite the outbreak of homelessness in our city.
It doesn’t make much sense – are there fewer homeless children or fewer homeless children in the classroom?
“I hate to talk about it because I’m so emotional.”
The only feeling, except for numbness from the cold, is despair for the mother, whom we will call Alesya. We met her in a broken SUV where she lived with her four children eight, three and one year old and her newborn who is only one month old. Alesya admits that the family slept in an SUV.
“My biggest fear … is my children … I don’t want to be away from them.”
This fear prevents her from telling her son’s teacher the reason why he is missing classes. The family was homeless for about a month or two. Dominoes started falling last spring.
Alesya says she was a victim of domestic violence. ITEAM received a 911 call for help during the pregnancy of the fourth child. She says the pregnancy was high risk because she had many complications.
911: “Police, fire or ambulance?”
Alesya: “Someone is beating me here, and I’m pregnant.”
911: “What description?”
Alesya: “I leave my (beep) face. Get off my (horn) ”.
Alesya remembers when the blows were inflicted. “I was in the hospital (giving birth to a child) when my lights were turned off … It’s very hard to have a newborn in a car with water bottles; I don’t have the opportunity to warm them sometimes, so I have to give them to her as it is. “
Alesya shows us all the attempts to get help for the family. “These are all the calls I’ve made.” ITEAM counted 22 calls that day in its call log. She says no one who responded could help her.
“They point at each other. They all point to another. “
This night Augustus is under recommendation about winter weather. The temperature is dropping, it’s snowing. Navigating the complex maze of nonprofit and government agencies designed to help people in need is at least confusing. Scary for someone who has just become homeless … almost impossible with four young children.
First, Alesya needs to be checked before she and her four children can get to the shelter. But the sheriff’s office closed early due to the weather. Next she needs a room, but no one answers the shelter.
ITEAM did answer the phone. Texts and calls to sources … Several checkpoints, hours later, and a clean check … We take them through the door of the only shelter in August that hosts families, the Center of Hope.
Dr. Gregory Rhodes is the director of the Center of Hope.
“We probably have an average of 16-17 kids every night.”
He tells us they are school children.
Liz Owens: “Why do you think the population has increased?”
Rhodes: “Because of the evictions. At least two of the families whose parents suffer from mental illness have increased the risk of becoming homeless. ”
Estimates show that the total number of homeless people in August has increased by 150 percent since last school year … But we found that this growth is not reflected in Richmond County schools. While the number of homeless increased, the number of homeless children in the classroom decreased by more than 65 percent.
ITEAM spent months analyzing attendance data. We found that 456 elementary school students were homeless last school year. This year? Only 154. So where are all the homeless children?
As we saw for ourselves, getting shelter was a problem for homeless parents like Ales. But bringing her son to school is a completely different mountain. She says her 8-year-old son is excellent at math, but he needs help in other areas such as reading. The sophomore missed a week at school in January because Alesie was unable to drive him away when her car broke down and she struggled to deliver it to Sue Reynolds Elementary School every morning.
Liz: “Did they say anything about bringing the bus here?”
Alesya: “No, nobody said anything about the bus, it’s just that he always goes to school every day.”
Alesya says she finally tells his teacher that they are homeless only when he learns about McKinney Vent’s law. It is a federal program that allocates funds to school districts to provide homeless children with equal access to education.
Once a student is identified, the Richmond School District appoints a liaison with the homeless to work with families to eliminate barriers to learning such as transportation. But ten days after Alesya said her son needed to be taken to school, the bus was still not coming to her son’s shelter. A liaison with the homeless from the school district says it will take some time to test the bus, so instead she offers a voucher for a taxi. She withdraws the offer when Alesya tells her that she does not have a car seat.
“It’s a dead end,” says Alesya’s friend Aisha. They worked together before life beat a young mother.
“She has four small children. Her son is released from school only at 3:45 p.m. She has to come back here at four o’clock to still have a place to sleep for her and her children. How does it work?
Aisha takes her friend’s son to school if her work schedule allows it. This has not been the case lately. Last week, the sophomore missed a few more days at school.
“We know that just two days a month of absence can affect a child’s ability to learn to read.” Dr. Kim Barker is an Associate Professor at the Augusta University School of Education. “When they’re eight in third grade, they need to switch to reading to learn … If they can’t read it, they keep falling behind.”
Dr Barker says Alesia’s son is at a critical age in school. What he learns or doesn’t learn now can have lifelong consequences.
“Statistically, we know that children who can’t read from grade to third grade are less likely than healthy adults to be unemployed and more likely to end up in prison in their lifetime.”
Returning to the shelter, Alesya has been here with her four children for 28 days. She says she sees her older child carrying the burden. “He doesn’t ask any questions. He just asks if everything is okay. It also worries me. He says, “Are you okay?” I just say yes.
It is unpleasant for Aisha to see the giant cracks in the system itself when so much taxpayer money at the local, state and federal levels is spent on funding programs designed to help people like Alessia. “What can we expect until the news comes out and they say that this young mother has cut off that it is too much for her? …. We let her down, and we let her down. ”
Again, many calls and texts to sources, and 22 days after entering the shelter Alesya finally got a car seat, and her son went to school. It’s hard not to feel frustrated by capturing the challenges families face in trying to find housing after they recently lost it.
Alice has job offers, but she can’t work until she takes care of the children. Working from home is not an option because she does not have a home where she can work and she cannot return home until she is able to work.
After all, those who suffer from long-term consequences are children. Our investigation of “Children on the Fault Line” will continue next week.
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