ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Parents are dealing with a number of issues as their children head back to school this year, but the burden is even heavier for those experiencing homelessness, including hundreds of families in the Roanoke Valley.
The assistant director of shelter services at the Rescue Mission of Roanoke, Suzanne Cook, says there is usually a large uptick in families who need shelter when school starts.
This year, though, factors like inflation, housing shortages, and the coronavirus pandemic are pushing many adults to make life-changing decisions, redefining the meaning of normalcy for their children.
“I can only imagine. I have four children of my own, so it’s a struggle,” said Joanne Wormley, case manager at Roanoke Area Ministries. “You’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. Who are we going to pay to get by?”
Roanoke City Public Schools reports that nearly 600 students have dealt with homelessness during the last school year.
“We are seeing a little bit of an increase if we look at year over year, and we did see an increase at the end of the year last year, over the 2020-2021 school year,” explained Haley Poland, assistant superintendent of equity and student services.
She says most students were living with family members, living in hotels or motels, or living in shelters.
“When a student has experienced an adverse childhood experience, so something like homelessness or the death of a family member, that directly impacts how our students do engage,” said Poland.
According to Poland, the Roanoke school district offers support for families and resources for students, including food for every meal, washer/dryer units, and places to shower.
For those looking for shelter, the staff at the Rescue Mission of Roanoke say they can almost always find a place for families to stay
“You come here, your life is on pause for this moment, so you can kind of get yourself together, get your finances together, get your housing together, so then you can press play and go on with your life,” said Cook.
Rescue mission employees tell WFXR News the items and services they need the most for students and families are shoes, haircuts, and quilts for the beds.