The face of homelessness is changing.
When you think of homelessness, you most likely think of people sleeping on the street or pushing shopping carts full of their belongings. However, experts say the fastest-growing homeless population is parents with children.
In 2003, there were 68 homeless students in the Bryan Independent School District. Last year, there were 405. College Station ISD had 149 homeless students during the 2007- 2008 school year. So far this year, there are 116.
These children are living with their families in shelters, in churches, even hopping from one motel room to the next. Meanwhile, school districts are doing what they can to keep the kids in school and on the right track.
Last month we met Esmeralda Cuevas. She and her cousin, Elizabeth, packed up their seven children and moved from California to Bryan for a fresh start. But, the move was bumpy and finding a place of their own has been challenging. The family quickly found themselves in Bryan and without a home.
"We've just been bouncing back and forth from motel to motel, so we're in one and they don't want kids there so we jump to the next," Cueves said.
When we met the family they were living in a Bryan motel, paying $55 a night, for two beds, a kitchenette and a bathroom.
13-year-old Raymond said it best, "(it's) crowded."
He is the oldest of the seven children and the only one who really understands their situation.
"(I'd like to) have my quiet, have my own stuff, so no one else will grab it," Raymond said.
With seven children in the same room, it's hard to get a word in, much less have a moment alone.
"Only at school," Raymond said.
School is their only escape, and where homeless families often get the help they need. They receive services through McKinney-Vento, a 1987 law that was strengthened in 2002 by No Child Left Behind.
By law every school district has a homeless liaison, who's job it is to identify homeless children. Sara Williams holds the position at Bryan ISD.
"I think it's larger than anyone understands," Williams said.
The school district has seen a 10 to 15 percent increase in homeless students every year. Williams says it's because of the economy and a lack of affordable housing.
Thanks to a grant, the Bryan school district provides a slew of services, from providing school supplies, to clothing, meals and the most important, transportation.
"We try to keep students in one school for the remainder of the school year, so if they're moving around Bryan or College Station, we're not changing schools," Williams said.
Experts say stability is the biggest issue. McKinney Vento guarantees that students can stay for a year in the same school, even if they move. Schools bus students to their school of origin or pay for city transportation.
"The rule of thumb is whenever a student changes schools, they loose three to four months in their education, and so if you're a homeless child, changing schools every two months, just look how much you lose in your education," Robin Oberg, College Station ISD Director of Special Programs, said.
Research shows homeless children have a harder time socializing and learning and are 50 percent less likely to graduate from high school than their peers. And drop any preconceptions about homelessness, school districts say they are seeing more students from middle-class families who no longer have a home.
Homeless families are living in local shelters, churches and motels, but homelessness can also mean living doubled up-several families under one roof. Statistics show that's how most local homeless families are living.
"What happens is one family has an apartment and somebody loses their home, maybe they are evicted or they lose a job and they can't afford a home," Oberg said. "So they move in with that family until they can get their feet back on the ground and look for their own housing."
Esmeralda is on the hunt for a job so that she can afford a home.
"Whatever comes right now, anything as long as it gets us by," Esmeralda said.
She says she's determined to give her children a better life.
"Being able to have a permanent home for them, being able to be stable and stuff and not having to think about what's going to happen tomorrow. Knowing I have a stable job, not thinking this is my last dollar and I have to save it because you never know what's going to come tomorrow."
Since interviewing the family in October, we've learned that they moved out of the Bryan motel and are now renting an apartment.
Important to note is that under the McKinney-Vento Act, "homeless" includes not just children who live on the streets, but "any individual who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence."
There are many resources in the community to help families that become homeless. Here are just a few:
Project Hope (Bryan ISD)
-Project Hope is an outreach service provided by the Bryan Independent School District. The program offers referrals to resources, case management services, tutoring programs, community awareness, transportation to school of origin and staff development. You can reach Project Hope at 209-2882 or 209-2895.
Texas Homeless Education Office
-The office assists school districts across the state. It's committed to ensuring that all school-age children who are experiencing homelessness in Texas have access to a free and appropriate public education. You can reach the Texas Homeless Education Office by calling its hotline, 1-800-446-3142.
Brazos Valley Coalition for Homeless
-The coalition made up of dozens of local agencies is located in Bryan. You can reach the Brazos Valley Coalition for Homeless at (979)209-5175 or (979) 209-5184.
Brazos Valley Food Bank
-The food bank is located at 1514 Shiloh Ave in Bryan. You can reach the Brazos Valley Food Bank at 779-3663 or online at www.bvfb.org.
Twin City Mission
-Twin City Mission is located in Bryan. You can call the shelter at 979-822-7511 or visit it online at www.twincitymission.org.
Family Promise of Bryan-College Station, Inc., is an area-wide, volunteer-based, non-profit organization that supports families by providing shelter, meals and support services to homeless families. You can reach Family Promise at (979) 268-4309. You can also find out more by clicking onto familypromisebcs.cfsites.org.
-Project Unity has two Bryan locations (979) 775-6788 1400 Beck Street, (979) 595-2900 4001 E 29th Street, Suite 150. You can learn more about Project Unity at www.projectunitytx.org.