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Homeless students a reality for many school systems across the region

By Susan Bahorich, sbahorich@wdbj7.com
Published On: Aug 20 2013 04:09:19 PM EDT
Updated On: Aug 20 2013 06:01:22 PM EDT

Back to school should be an exciting time, but for some it's filled with anxiety.

ROANOKE, Va. -

Forget pencils and notebooks, beds and a safe place to stay on are the minds of many this school year.

Roanoke City School Superintendent Rita Bishop first alerted us to the problem during the annual Back to School Extravaganza.

"The most important thing to realize when I open school on the 19th, I will have nearly 600-homeless students," Bishop said.

But, Roanoke City isn't the only locality dealing with this issue.

It's a statewide problem addressed by the College of William and Mary.

"Project Hope" identifies students and tries to help through awareness and grant money.

"Our numbers have continued to increase across the state. We've continued to increase since 2006, each year," explains Project Hope coordinator Dr. Patricia Popp, Ph.D.

Roanoke is a good example.

WDBJ7 took a look at the numbers since the 2010 school year, since that time the number of students without a place to call home has increased by 200.

The Lynchburg school division has fewer students, but a similar problem.

Over the last couple of years, the number of homeless students hovers around 200.

Things are less severe in Martinsville where a couple of dozen students have been identified as homeless.

And, in Danville, where just a handful fall into that category.

Administrators with Project Hope blame the numbers on the economy.

Dr. Bishop says she's not surprised by the the increase in her division, but attributes the growth to Roanoke's services.

"Some of that could be that some folks from other areas, who arrive in Roanoke because they know that we have ways of handling this," explains Bishop.

Bishop says while 600-homeless students seems high, there could be dozens more in any school system.

She calls them "couch surfers" - students who don't have a permanent home, but travel from couch to couch staying with friends and family.