The number of schoolchildren not getting an education became obvious when the Homeless Coalition opened its homeless center last year.
In the first six months, 744 families with more than 1,600 children came to the Philip D. Lewis Center in West Palm Beach looking for shelter.
With classes disrupted and no quiet place for homework, the homeless students weren’t learning.
So the Palm Beach County School District joined the Homeless Coalition to raise money for displaced students to have homes where their learning can resume. The 5K on West Palm Beach’s waterfront Saturday drew 252 walkers who raised $20,000 for temporary apartments for four families with school-age children.
“We face a huge need that far outstrips our available resources,” said Beth Lefler, one of six school caseworkers who identify homeless students, make sure they are enrolled and provide them with academic and social support.
“There isn’t enough money for this to be government funded,” Homeless Coalition Executive Director Marilyn Munoz said. “We need individuals and businesses in the community to step up.”
The school district wants students in homes because experts say homelessness prevents education.
The district counted 1,636 homeless students in Palm Beach County last year. That number is expected to increase this year based on a preliminary count and the surge of families coming to the new homeless center.
“When kids move around a lot, they lose their academic achievements,” Lefler explained. “We try to give transportation back to their original schools.
“But if they don’t have a quiet place to do their homework, they can often lose six months of learning time,” she said.
The inaugural 5K Walk the Walk to End Homelessness will become the largest annual fundraiser for the Homeless Coalition, which underestimated the number of homeless families when it opened the center in July.
The center processes families to the Center for Family Services, Lord’s Place, Adopt-a-Family and other agencies for temporary shelter which often isn’t available.
“It’s very difficult to tell a family of five living in a car that there are no resources for them,” school caseworker Judith McInnes said. “The new homeless center shows the need is more than people expected.”
School caseworkers encouraged former homeless families to wear “Ask Me” buttons and talk to walkers during Saturday’s event. Karen Joseph, a single mother, brought her 13-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son to raise awareness.
“I want others to know there is a way back,” Joseph said. “I tell my kids not to be shy about it. I didn’t like to ask for help. But now, with a little lift and a push, we’re getting our confidence back to be stronger.”
The Joseph family and others showed the face is homelessness has changed to include children.
“I always thought the homeless people who stood on street corners were responsible for whatever got them there – until we became homeless,” said Violet Krecht, a single mother with a 16-year-old daughter. “There are more of us than just the people on corners holding signs.”