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Your Need students might Homeless

When you think about central Ohio students enjoying a break for Thanksgiving, you probably picture some using the time to focus on academics by catching up on some reading or math homework.

You might imagine others honing their skills for extracurricular activities, such as jazz band or debate, or perhaps eager athletes running laps around their neighborhoods to gain an edge for their next basketball game, or – let's be honest – the majority who are just hanging out and savoring time off school.

You probably aren't thinking of the thousands of students who don't have a stable place to call home.

By gathering information from public school districts in and around Columbus, ThisWeek has learned its coverage area has at least 4,100 students, from preschool to high school, identified as "homeless" per federal guidelines.

Were you aware of how many central Ohio students are considered homeless? Read the story by@ThisWeekMarla to find out more:https://t.co/LZ3Befp9YF

— ThisWeekNEWS (@ThisWeekNews)November 20, 2018

The bulk of those homeless students are in Columbus City Schools. Columbus is considered Ohio's largest district, with nearly 51,000 students enrolled and 21 high schools, said Scott Varner, the district's communications director.

The district reported 3,582 students who are considered homeless and without a permanent residence for this school year. This includes 303 in preschool, 1,991 in elementary grades, 678 in middle school and 610 in high school.

But the public suburban districts have homeless students, too – perhaps more in some places than one might think.

Out of 16 suburban districts that responded to ThisWeek, the number of homeless students for the current school year totals 567 across all grade levels, and every district reported having at least one homeless student enrolled.

The figures are: Bexley, 1; Delaware, 46; Dublin, 31; Gahanna-Jefferson, 35; Grandview Heights, 1; Groveport Madison, 33; Hilliard, 34; New Albany-Plain Local, 2; Olentangy, 40; Pickerington, 9; Reynoldsburg, 51; South-Western, 110; Upper Arlington, 2; Westerville, 84; Whitehall, 63; and Worthington, 25.

Canal Winchester is the only suburban district contacted that did not respond to the information request.

In aggregate, based on the figures each district provided ThisWeek, the homeless-student populations appear to be consistent over the past three school years.

Most of the districts specified they follow the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, that defines "homeless children and youth" as individuals who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.

Per those federal guidelines, the term homeless refers to children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason (sometimes referred to as "doubled up"); living in motels, hotels, trailer parks or camping grounds due to lack of alternative adequate accommodations; living in emergency or transitional shelters; abandoned in hospitals; or awaiting foster-care placement.

It also includes youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation, or youths living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus stations or similar settings.

But the good news is these students don't appear to be neglected by their districts or communities.

The districts surveyed indicated they had internal programs to help, and most said their communities have a number of organizations that can provide assistance and allow individuals to help.

ThisWeek has selected four communities and their organizations to highlight some of these local efforts.

Gahanna's community resources abound

Gahanna has several community organizations that help support homeless students in the Gahanna-Jefferson Public School District.

Judy Hengstebeck, communications coordinator for Gahanna-Jefferson, said one of them is the Gahanna-Jefferson Education Foundation, which provides a list of resources for parents and staff to help all children in need.

President Sharon Tomko said the foundation also helps students who don't have stable homes through the Harvey Mast Care for Kids Fund and the Mechwart-Butts Scholarship.

The special fund helps students with personal needs, Tomko said.

"A staff person, typically a teacher or counselor, will reach out to us regarding a student with personal needs like coats, clothing and shoes," she said. "We are able to give the teacher/counselor a gift card to purchase the needed items.

"We have also helped homeless students who reside in shelters and homes outside of Gahanna by purchasing a bus pass so they are able to get to school and work."

The scholarship is for students who are in foster care or those who come from fragile family backgrounds, Tomko said.

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