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Homelessness: New urgency needed to help children

When we take a look at the devastating effects of natural disasters or the substance abuse epidemic in West Virginia, we think often about the adults who are struggling. Homeowners have waited three years in some cases for the help they were promised to rebuild their lives; the vast majority of the folks being arrested or in treatment/rehab facilities for substance abuse issues are over the age of 18.

Even when it comes to the Mountain State’s younger residents, the focus is often on how their HOME life affects their schooling.

It might come as a shock to realize a growing number of our most vulnerable residents have no place to call home, at all.

According to state Department of Education data for 2018-19, there are nearly 1,000 MORE students labeled “homeless” than there were in the previous school year. The total has grown to approximately 10,500 homeless students across the state.

Rebecca Derenge, who is the state’s coordinator for the federal law dictating how to count homeless students, says there are several factors contributing to the increase, but the big ones are the substance abuse epidemic and a series of floods going back over the past three years.

Most of these kids — 87 percent — have a roof over their heads. They are living with family or friends — not exactly the most secure and stable situation for young people who need to be able to put those kinds of distractions aside to do their best in an academic setting. Then there are the other 13 percent. Approximately 1,360 kids are trying to grow, learn and succeed while struggling in a way most of us could never understand, just to survive.

And, again, those numbers are increasing. Politicians and bureaucrats who intentionally refuse to understand the role they could play in helping those kids should be ashamed of themselves. Quit playing the blame game and worry more about getting the families displaced by three years worth of flooding back into real homes they can call their own.

Quit clinging to the economic strategies and political tricks of the past when it is crystal clear West Virginia must do something new and different if we are to breathe real life into an economy that brings hope to those who have given up.

One homeless child is too many; 10,500 is a crisis, and the search for solutions must take on that level of urgency. Now.

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