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More than 4,000 CMS students could be without stable housing this year, district says

District leaders say they expect to see even more unhoused students in the 2022-2023 school year.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the Charlotte area, there are thousands of public school students who don't have stable housing. This issue clashes with the fact that there is a shortage of housing in the metro area.

According to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, more than 4,000 students were deemed housing-insecure last school year. Employees with the district who work with these students say it's a multi-faceted problem that hits just about everyone hard.

Katie Blythe is a social worker with the district's Families In Transition program, which aims to help families facing homelessness. She said the pandemic, coupled with the cost of living and inflation, is pushing families to stay in hotels, move in with relatives, or even live in their cars. She also pointed to the supply and demand of affordable housing. 

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“We’re trending upward, and I hate to say that but we're seeing a huge amount of evictions because of job insecurity as well," Blythe said.

Last school year, the district reported there were 4,200 CMS students who didn't have a home of their own. So far, the district has identified around 2,000 students deemed housing-insecure as the school year approaches. Blythe says this year, they expect the number to reach about 4,700 students. 

In January of 2002, Congress authorized the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act to help people experiencing homelessness. The federal law includes the Education of Homeless Children and Youth Program that entitles children who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence to free, appropriate education. It also requires schools to remove barriers to their enrollment, attendance, and success in school. 

The Families In Transition program at CMS meets the needs of homeless students attending district schools by addressing academic challenges and family issues affecting their success in the classroom.

“One of the red flags we see are attendance," Blythe said. "There can be dips in that but also honestly there are some students who are excellent and resilient and you would never know."

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Under the McKinney-Vento Act, homeless students have access to the same programs and services available to all students. They also receive free meals and transportation, which Blythe says helps "fill in the gaps with what they’re experiencing".

And while CMS does work with community housing partners to help families get into homes, there's still a fight to help families and students with education.

McKinney-Vento services are provided for the duration of a school year and do not automatically renew. To obtain more information about eligibility, services provided and how to access services, families can contact the McKinney-Vento liaison at their current school. CMS provides a list of social workers online and notes which ones are McKinney-Vento liaisons. General questions can be emailed to mcv@cms.k12.nc.us.

Parents may also contact the NC Homeless Education State Coordinator.

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Contact Lexi Wilson at lwilson@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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