Pasco County school board approves nearly $1M to help homeless students

The Pasco County School Board approved nearly $1 million to help homeless and housing insecure students in the district. 

The Homeless Children and Youth Project will seek to identify homeless students and provide wraparound services that will allow them to fully participate in school activities.

District leaders said they have identified approximately 1,354 homeless students in Pasco County. Those numbers are higher than normal due to the pandemic and other factors. The district believes the actual number of students impacted is underreported.

"There are a lot of reasons for that. One of them being that they move around a lot. They might be in Hillsborough County one month and then in Pasco another month, and by the time we identify them, they're living in Hernando County," Steve Hegarty with Pasco County Schools said. "So, we have to work with lots of different agencies to provide them with services.  Another thing is that if you're without a home and you're a student, sometimes you're not real interested in being identified as a homeless student. It can be embarrassing."

The program aims to eliminate some of those barriers, providing things like emergency housing, transportation, food assistance, hygiene items and help with extracurricular activities.

"Homeless children, in particular, often times aren’t participating in sports activities or field trips because they don’t have the money and they’re embarrassed to ask for it. It’s so important for kids and their social and emotional development to participate in those types of things," Christine Long, Chief Programs Officer of Metropolitan Ministries said.

Metropolitan Ministries works with a lot of the families and believes this program will provide critical help to homeless students.

"When they come to the shelter, they need to get back to school of origin, they need extra care and attention and these types of programs make sure all homeless children get the care and services they need," Christine Long said.

"This grant recognizes that this particular group of students has tremendous barriers to overcome. So what we've done is we've worked with a lot of the agencies where we've identified the things that they might need help with so that they can be successful in school," Hegarty said.

Funds will also be used to increase the number of staff members tasked with identifying and helping homeless students.

The district requested $945,421 from funds allocated through the American Rescue Plan for the program.