WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County is becoming an ever-increasingly expensive place to call home. With soaring rents and mortgages, the number of students facing homelessness shows no letup.
"This pandemic has been absolutely terrible for our children and we have been dealing with this at the schools, but we don't have enough staff, we don't have enough dollars, we don't have enough of anything to really make the impact," Palm Beach County School Board member Erica Whitfield said.
Whitfield is stressing a community approach to address that need.
According to the data during the 2020-21 school year, there were 2,931 students who were considered homeless. This year there are now more than 4,000.
Hundreds of students are in emergency shelters or transitional housing. Hundreds more live in cars, parks or abandoned buildings.
The district works through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. It's a federal program protecting children without a home.
Correnna Sheldon is a success story of overcoming reality and now preparing for college.
"I'm really blessed because today I'm living with my mom," she said.
The focus is school stability and access to academic success.
The district works through the county and nonprofits like The Lord's Place.
"The problem is being able to identify that the person or the family has that need," Gregory Clay, with The Lord's Place, said. "Because it is a thing of embarrassment for some kids, so they may not speak up."
Clay said they're seeing a lot of families that are homeless and that presents its own problems.
"It's harder to place families as opposed to single individuals," he said.
Under-reporting is also a challenge. Some estimate that the number of homeless students may be two to three times larger than the current totals.