BRYAN More than 1.1-million students in the United States were homeless in the 2011 - 2012 school year. Since the recession that number has continued to climb. In fact, Bryan ISD says their student homeless population has nearly doubled since 2011.
There are nearly 16,000 students enrolled at Bryan ISD.
“As a community we are facing more challenges,” said Mary Walraven of Project Hope in Bryan ISD. “Our economy has changed; Bryan ISD is 74% free and reduced lunch which has changed significantly since my kids were here and no to mention the national statistic says we are just one or two paychecks away from homelessness.”
Mary Walraven has been with the district for 23 years, and says one of those challenges is student homelessness -- which continues to grow.
“Kids can be identified as homeless if they have temporary substandard housing because of economic hardship. That includes living in our shelters: Twin city mission, Phoebe's home and it includes living in cars, parks other things not meant for human residency; and we also have families living in sheds,” Walraven said. “This also means the student or students are without a parent or guardian for lots of reasons: they've been kicked out; they're parents are in jail; parents have been hospitalized or there is just some reason the family can't live together.”
Walraven is the brainchild behind Project Hope, an organization she started 13 years ago to help homeless students get back on their feet and back in school.
“We help them with food, clothes, school supplies, transportation and anything that would hinder them from being at school or being ready to learn,” Walraven added.
Walraven said Project Hope began with “No child left Behind” when it was initiated in 2001 and it was required by the McKinney-Vento Act. The McKinney-Vento Act is a federal law that says homeless children have the right to an education and it's our job to remove any barriers from that child attending school.
“It has to be short-term because of economic hard-ship and temporary. It can't be that you and I move in together to save gas or save on rent,” said Walraven.
There were 316 homeless students in BISD during the 2010/11 school year. That number has jumped to 578 homeless students for this year. While College Station is certainly not immune, the need is much smaller with the district serving 124 homeless students. The students who receive assistance from Project Hope are also supplied with food and personal hygiene products from the organization's emergency food pantry to help them get through the weekend.
"I give credit to the kids and their determination and resilience that say 'I'm going to do this,' ” Walraven explained.
Walraven says she's proud to see the students achieve a greater path through education while overcoming what she calls a desperate situation.
The students who are enrolled in Project Hope receive breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday; and since the need has grown so much over the years, Walraven says the organization opened up an emergency food pantry to provide food and toiletries and personal hygiene products to supply the students over the weekend.
For more on Project Hope, click on the link below.