Recently, we ran an article on the homeless and unaccompanied students of Navarre. We were shocked by the numbers right here in our hometown. Our children were in school barely a month and already almost 500 were identified as in need, and that number is only expected to go up.
As shocked as we were by the numbers, we weren’t shocked by the response of our community who have been calling and emailing us wanting to know “what can I do?”
Children are struggling in ways many of us can’t even imagine. They are living in motels and cars. Picture doing algebra homework on the dashboard of your mom’s sedan or a book report without a home computer. So guys, here is what you can do.
One group, Women in Santa Rosa, has taken a huge step for these children. In the county 10 to 15 homeless students will graduate and go on to college and other secondary education programs. And they will need laptops.
Women in Santa Rosa has begun collecting $100 donations to help the Santa Rosa Education Foundation provide new laptops to these students so they can work toward a better future. They have had 36 pledges in the first day of collecting donations.
Another step is eliminating the stigma. It is easy to look at a homeless adult and see a lazy bum. It’s much harder to hear the story of how they got there. It’s harder to put yourself in the shoes of a parent who is terrified of losing custody of their children because they got too sick to work for three weeks and lost their house. It’s harder to acknowledge that sometimes the America Dream and “pick yourself up by your boot straps” mentality leaves people behind.
But that is the reality these children live with. Beyond a shift in attitude, there are simple things you can do. The school district has a benevolence fund for these children. Donate to it.
They need the basic care items and school supplies any other child does. Go out and buy them.
New items like socks and underwear, deodorant, laundry soap, feminine hygiene products and toiletries can make a huge impact.
Any of these donations should be addressed to the Santa Rosa Education Foundation, 5086 Canal Street Milton, Fla. Checks for laptops should be written to attention Homeless Laptop Program.
On a much larger scale, what we really need is transitional housing. When we spoke to Karen Barber, Ph.D., the school’s Director of Federal Programs, she lamented that she had nowhere to send these families here in Navarre.
Why? We have so much to offer, but we do not have a single home to take these people off the street and turn their lives around. We pray that a church or nonprofit will step up and make this happen. Programs like Family Promise, which offers temporary housing and coaching for these families, might spread to our area if the right person with the right resources steps up and calls them (their number is 850-623-5300).
And we need transportation programs. Many problems for those in need could be solved with reliable public transportation. Aged-out foster children could get to school and jobs. Homeless and low-income families could find new employment, travel to employment and find better employment with a reliable ride to work.
This is where we as voters have immeasurable power. You may believe you do not have the power to make these things happen, but you do. Write or call your county commissioner (850-983-1877) and your school board member (850-983-5000). Make it their problem. They need your support to stay in their office, so tell them what you want, what our children need.
And keep your eyes open. These children are all ages, genders, races, religions and backgrounds. The only thing that makes them all the same is the struggle they face. Ask when something does not seem right and use the interventional ideas above to provide assistance to our homeless children. Call 850-983-5237 to refer these children for services through the school district.
Yes, there is a problem, but this community is the solution.