(WFXR) — According to the National Center of Homeless Education, nearly 17,500 homeless children and teens were enrolled in Virginia’s public schools during the 2019-2020 academic year.

“The definition of homelessness for students is greater than just students who are unhoused or living in shelters,” Amherst County Public Schools’ supervisor for student and family wellness, Marie Petrone, explained.

She adds that student homelessness also involves children and teens not having a roof over their heads, having unstable homes, or being doubled up with other family members.

Petrone says the problem can be hidden in plain sight, but is identified by poor academic outcomes.

“They tend to miss more days of school. They often bounce around from school to school or locality to locality and so there is inconsistency in their education,” said Petrone.

Throughout the Commonwealth, though, Petrone says there are multiple resources for families.

For example, the Central Virginia Continuum of Care serves as a single point of entry for all of the agencies that help with homelessness in Amherst County and the rest of the region.

Meanwhile, over in southwest Virginia, 590 students at Roanoke City Public Schools were impacted by homelessness during this past school year. One of the ways the Star City helps is by supplying meals through free summer food programs.

For example, Roanoke City Public Schools provides free summer meals to those ages 18 and under from June 13 through Aug. 12 at various times and locations. If you have any questions about this feeding program, you are asked to call the Department of Food and Nutrition at 540-853-2863.

Roanoke Parks and Recreation is participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Meal Service Program, which also provides meals to children free of charge.

Marketing coordinator for Roanoke Parks and Recreation, Molly Hagan, highlights the importance of providing healthy options for children.

“It’s great to have food available in a food desert or in places where children would be lacking that otherwise,” said Hagan. “A lot of students get meals during the school year, and making sure they don’t drop off with that healthy eating is really important.”

For teachers dealing with student homelessness, school officials encourage them to build positive relationships with their students so they feel comfortable enough to discuss what is going on at home.

On a statewide level, Project Project HOPE Virginia is another resource that lists many resources for families that need help.