By Tori Hamby

Hundreds in Lake Norman area identified

More than 600 children in the Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville aren’t sure where they will sleep each night.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools counted 601 homeless students last school year in the district’s Northeast Zone, which encompasses schools in the Lake Norman area and north Charlotte, according to Kay Carreira, a specialist who helps CMS educate homeless students.

Those 601 students account for 12 percent of CMS’ homeless population. More than 4,900 homeless students are enrolled in the school district, according to a district report.

Carreira heads CMS’ McKinney-Vento program, a result of the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987. The federal program aims to provide stability to students whose housing situations might be precarious, Carreira said.

The program allows students who move into a homeless shelter or temporary housing to attend their home school to keep changes in their home life from disrupting their education.

“If a student who attended North Mecklenburg High became homeless and moved into the Salvation Army homeless shelter in west Mecklenburg, the school district would provide transportation to North Meck from the shelter to minimize the disruption in that student’s life,” Carreira said.

She added that while many people might have stereotyped notions of homeless families living on the side of the road, the program also serves families living in hotels or families who temporarily move in with friends or relatives while trying to secure permanent housing.

“We know situations that cause people to lose their homes can strike anyone at anytime,” Carreira said. “Who knows that one thing that could happen to any of us that could place us in that situation?”

Each school employs a counselor or social worker to identify the signs of homelessness. Parents who don’t have the documents needed to enroll their children at a new school – such as a lease agreement or driver’s license that lists the parents’ new residency – are red flags that a family might be facing a questionable housing situation.

Those counselors and social workers also provide homeless families with information about service providers, including nonprofits, churches or businesses.

A Child’s Place, located in uptown Charlotte, helps CMS serve its homeless population by providing food, tutoring services, school uniforms, mentors, medical and dental services and school supplies to homeless children.

The organization is limited to help select schools, mostly located in the central and western parts of the school district, as well as some schools in the University City area, due to budget constraints.

“It costs us about $100,000 to send a team into a school,” CP’s executive director Annabelle Suddreth said, “so we can only serve about 35 out of the district’s 158 schools.”

She noted that the homeless student problem is district-wide and that the more affluent districts in the northern and southern parts of the county have homeless students, just fewer of them. Also, she contends, she is a misconception that homelessness is not a problem in the Lake Norman area.

Suddreth believes that the number of homeless students in North Mecklenburg is a conservative estimate. It doesn’t include children not yet in kindergarten or older teens.

She estimates that about 1,700 additional homeless children are enrolled in CMS.

“The 601 figure does not include middle and high school students who are really good at keeping their most guarded secrets.”

By The Numbers

4,900 The total number of homeless students CMS officials identified during the 2011-12 school year

601 The number of students living in CMS’ Northeast Zone – which includes Huntersville, Davidson and Cornelius – that district officials identified as homeless last school year

12 The percentage of CMS’ total homeless population that attended a school in the Northeast Zone last year

1,700 The number of unidentified homeless students that A Child’s Place, a Charlotte nonprofit that aids homeless students, estimates are enrolled in CMS

$100,000 How much money it costs ACP to place a support team in one school