There are at least 10 homeless families in the Clay Central-Evelry school district, according to the Iowa Legislative Code and the CC-E district board policy manual.
"Homelessness," within the school system, is now defined as those who "lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence." This definition now includes children or youth who are "sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason (Doubled up), living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to lack of alternative adequate accommodations, living in emergency or transitional shelters, abandoned in hospitals," and "awaiting foster care placement."
Other definitions include children whose primary nighttime residence was not designed to accommodate humans, children "living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings," and children or youth not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.
Ashley Tessum, homeless liaison at CC-E, notes that the 10 families classified as homeless under the Iowa code are "Double-up families."
"For a lot of people, when they hear 'homeless,' they think of someone who doesn't have a house," Tessum said. "In this economy, the issue is deeper than that."
Tessum also noted that because of the economy, double-up families are becoming more common, as families move in with relatives or friends to avoid financial distress.
As homeless liaison, Tessum's job is to identify the homeless children at the school, and to raise awareness in the community of the growing need.
"Our push this year is to promote that help is available at the school," Tessum said.
This help includes:
- Providing transportation services for the students and their families to and from school and sporting events.
- Providing a free and reduced fee program that applies to school lunches, books, and fees associated with registration.
- Providing physicals and immunizations for students participating in sports.
This year, there is a high percentage of students participating in the free and reduced fee program. Tessum estimates that between 30 and 40 percent of the students are benefiting from the program.
"There are resources available," Tessum said.
She also notes that so far, judgment from the community has not been an issue. As public awareness grows, she does expect that public discernment will also grow, though she hopes that the attitude will not be negative.
"I don't know if it's more that people don't understand if it's by choice or if it's because of economic hardship," she said.