Local Voices – Kim


Kim Snell, ATLAS Liaison, Rutherford County Schools, TN –

“As the homeless liaison for a medium-size school system (45 schools) in Tennessee, I always expect movement after the holidays. Families who have other families doubled up with them simply can’t cope with everyone being at home for 2 weeks, cold weather, the stress of the holidays, higher heating bills, and the financial strain of feeding everyone every day. It just gets to be too much. When ‘we’ (educators, legislators, others who cannot imagine not having a place to call home) think of doubled up families, we think of our own homes, with 2 or 3 empty bedrooms. That is not the reality of our doubled up families. They are more likely to be families of 4 or 5 living in a 2 or 3 bedroom house or apartment, with another family of 3 to 5 people living in the same house. Very few of the children even sleep in a bedroom, much less have their own room.

The first week in January, 2 children in schools in one town were identified for the homeless program, and they requested transportation. A few days later, 3 children in schools in a different town were identified, and requested transportation. Their address was the same as the first family. I started asking questions, thinking that one family was doubled up with the other family, and only one family should be considered homeless. When I talked to the homeowner, she was the grandmother of all the children. She told me that her daughter and her family had lost their home and moved in with her, and a few days later her son and his family were evicted from their apartment and moved in. Three families, 5 children, living in one house, attending 4 different schools.

Today I learned of another situation. A family with 5 little girls in elementary and middle school. As the school social worker was trying to reach mom for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting, she discovered that the family was no longer doubled up as they had been previously. The youngest girl said, “We were making too much noise every day. We were just playing, but they didn’t like us.” So they were told to leave. Mom is living in her van so she can get to work, and all 5 girls have gone to stay with their aunt in a town about 50 miles away in a different county. Aunt has promised to continue bringing the girls to school, and we will help her with gas reimbursement. Mom hopes to get them all into a motel room soon. Her credit is bad, so she doesn’t think she will be able to get into any kind of stable housing.

In Tennessee, 72% of homeless children are doubled up. In our county, 86% are doubled up, because we do not have enough shelters or affordable housing. Families who move in with someone else don’t do it because that’s what they want. They do it because they have nowhere else to go. The families who take them in do so because they care about the family, but in many cases these families are barely making it financially.

The homeless unaccompanied “couch-surfing” youth are just trying to survive and finish high school. We have no services outside the school system for these kids, so in order to qualify for services they would have to leave the only support system they have – their friends – to go to a big city 45 minutes away. We might as well ask them to go to the moon.”

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About the photos: Photos of children and youth experiencing homelessness provided by Diane Nilan, HEAR US Inc., used with permission. (c) 2012, Diane Nilan, HEAR US Inc.