The number of homeless students is rising across Johnson County due to families who can’t pay their rent or afford the deposits needed to rent an apartment or home.
This month, 208 students at Franklin schools are living in hotels or with multiple other families in one house or don’t have a parent or guardian looking after them. That’s up from 178 homeless students in September, community outreach coordinator Kim Spurling said.
Many of those families need help paying rent they already owe or affording the hundreds or thousands of dollars needed to cover the security deposit and first month’s rent at a new apartment or home, Spurling said.
Local agencies that help families with rent and other bills also are seeing more homeless students and families who need help.
But while Spurling and the community groups want to help students and families pay for short- and long-term housing, right now they don’t have enough money for everyone who needs help, and Johnson County has no shelter they can send them to.
Spurling is looking for donors willing to provide rent money for students and families. She and other organizers also are working on ways to identify students in danger of dropping out of high school, so they can remind them that their best chance at affording a home for themselves in the future is to continue their education.
The Kids in Crisis Intervention Team, or KIC-IT, which provides meals, supplies and other resources to homeless teens and young adults between the ages of 16 and 25, had 80 new individuals ask for assistance last year, up from 65 asking for help for the first time in 2012, president Debbie Burton said.
Christian Help, which provides assistance to homeless Johnson County residents of all ages, received 1,100 calls from people asking for help with utility bills and rent last year so that they wouldn’t be evicted from their homes. So far this month Christian Help has received 37 calls from people asking for help paying for rent or utilities — which also includes 10 people who needed money to check themselves and their families into a hotel for a few nights, executive director LaTheda Noonan said.
She expects to get more phone calls from residents who need help paying their bills, as seasonal and part-time jobs that residents could find during the holidays are now over, she said.
“It’s only going to get worse as time goes by and paychecks are decreasing and everything is going up,” Noonan said.
Christian Help used to pay for a hotel room for homeless families but no longer can afford to since the group has been collecting fewer donations. The organization’s goal now is to prevent homelessness by helping people stay in their homes, and the group can give families $100 every six months to help with expenses, Noonan said.
When she started her job at Franklin last fall, Spurling began coming up with ways to help families who couldn’t afford the initial cost of renting a home. Recently, she got approval to start collecting donations to help families afford housing costs but hasn’t collected anything yet.
What the county needs more than cash for short-term hotel stays is a shelter for homeless students and families, Spurling and Noonan said. Right now, if they have a family with nowhere to go and no money, they have to send them to a shelter outside the county.
“People just need to realize that we need to take care of our neighbors,” Noonan said.
Spurling also is trying to track down students at Franklin Community High School who aren’t living with a parent or guardian, which puts them at risk for dropping out and eventually becoming homeless.
Many of the teens and people in their early 20s whom Burton helps through KIC-IT dropped out of high school and were able to support themselves for about a year by working part-time jobs and sleeping on people’s couches. But after they ran out of friends or family to stay with, they saw how difficult it is to afford the cost of rent with one, two or even three part-time jobs, and they can’t find full-time or better paying work because they don’t have a high school diploma, Burton said.
Right now, Franklin has at least two students who aren’t living with parents or a guardian, but Spurling regularly looks for others. She wants to ensure they know about the benefits of finishing high school and to see if they need any help to make it through to graduation. She is the only public school employee in Johnson County whose full-time job is to track and help homeless students.
Burton also wants to set up a program where people now in KIC-IT who dropped out of high school can speak with current students at middle and high schools across the county, telling them why they need to graduate to have the best chance at affording a home or apartment.
“I just feel like, if they had an education, some kind of GED or additional training behind them, they could find something (where) the pay would be worth the while,” Burton said.