KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Hickman Mills elementary school is dealing with an unprecedented number of students battling homelessness as new data shows students who are homeless in the United States are underreported.
“It’s been rough with inflation and everything else going on right now, gas prices and whatnot, and we have to be scarce with our money and balance it out,” said Travis Bland, parent at Ervin Elementary.
The Bland family is one of 20 families at Ervin Elementary who doesn't have a permanent home.
The Hickman Mills School District says 160 students are currently without a home this school year. Many of these families are staying in hotels, shelters and assisted living spaces in the meantime.
“We have some kids who have a hard time just getting to school, and if you can’t get to school, you can’t learn,” said Shanika Smith, family school liaison at Ervin Elementary.
Smith and other social workers within the school say students impacted by displacement often show signs of stress, emotional instability and at times poor academic performance.
“We have a lot of students who exhibit behavior problems as well, just not having enough sleep at home or the basic needs met,” said Ervin Elementary transitional case worker Raechel Lovingood.
Staff at Ervin Elementary have made it their mission to help their students' families. The school is working with cab companies to get students to and from school, getting students individual counseling and offering community closets full of deodorant, shampoo, coats and other basic needs.
“It’s good because my mom won’t have to spend money because the place we live in it’s helping her save money, and when we get out of that place, we can get our own home,” said fifth-grade student Sariah Wilson.
The Center for Public Integrity says the number of students living without a home in the U.S. is underreported and is impacting graduation rates.
During 2017 and 2018, the group said in both Missouri and Kansas, the graduation rate for students who experienced homelessness was about 15-20% lower than students who didn’t.
Estimates predict 300,000 students across the country don't have a home, even though 2,400 districts reported having no students displaced. And based on the current financial climate, the agency believes school districts are undercounting.
The Bland family of seven says the support Ervin Elementary is providing is helping them make ends meet. Although, Travis Bland fears more families could be dealing with the same situation as the cost of living rises.
“I hope not and wish not, but I think it’s going to be hard for a lot of people,” Bland said.
Ervin Elementary launched a mentorship program this year to help students by pairing them up with trusted adults. The Hickman Mills School District also has partnerships with several organizations such as Harvesters to help feed students and families.