BUSINESS
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Schools And Students React To Surge Of Homelessness

As part of its Bearing Witness 2.0 project, the Huffington Post is rounding up a few of the best local stories of the day.

Clarence Banks grew up homeless, sleeping on floors of motel rooms and bouncing from apartment to apartment. Now, at 20, he's attending college, reports Scott Martindale of the Orange County Register, and was awarded a $2,000 scholarship last week by the Crystal Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit that helps underprivileged youth get to college. In an interview, Banks described how he struggled to maintain focus in high school and eventually made the difficult decision to leave his family to move in with his grandparents so that he could have the stability to focus on college:

I was working part time at Smart & Final in Long Beach and helping to pay the rent for the motels we were staying at. I remember one day I came home from work, and I felt empty. I knew I was helping my mom, watching my brothers, but I wasn't doing anything for myself. That's why I made the decision to move back to my grandparents' house to finish my schooling.

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Griffin Ringle was one of the final graduates of the Good Will-Hinckley Home for Boys & Girls, a residential school for students with social and behavioral difficulties in Maine. The school ended its core residential and academic programs over the summer, reports Scott Monroe of the Morning Sentinel. After he graduated, Ringle was hoping to live at the school for a while to help him find a job, a place to live and think about college. Instead, because of state-wide budget redirecting, he got to spend two weeks in the school before they pushed him out into the world with a month's worth of rent money.

The money ran out quickly, and Ringle could not get a job despite filling out over 50 applications. He lived with a friend for a week before settling into a homeless shelter. Then, in July, Ringle was hit by a car in a hit-and-run, fracturing his ribs and splitting his shoulder. "It's kind of depressing when you feel like your bowl is glued back together and you have the last piece back in there, and then all of sudden it shatters into dust," he said. Ringle has since enrolled at Kennebec Valley Community College, with help from scholarships and grants, but admitted that his lack of a permanent home would make things tough: "If I don't have a stable place to live, I won't do well in school."

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In Anchorage, the number of homeless students has grown by 38 percent over the past year, reports Chrstine Kim of NBC affiliate KTUU. Half of all homeless in Anchorage are students in Kindergarten through 12th grade, and the numbers keep getting bigger. The school district has been tracking these students, offering free or discounted meals, transportation, and parenting classes to families burdened with the uncertainty of not knowing where they will be sleeping.

"Most of our parents are working parents and they just fell into hard times," said Marcus Wilson, principal of the North Star Elementary School. "Most of them say, 'Hey, we're just one paycheck away from being in a homeless situation,'" he continued, "and when it actually does happens, that's just the way the world is now. Unfortunately we're starting to see that a lot more, and it's just your everyday working families that are falling into situations like this."

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Like many school districts forced to respond to the upswing of foreclosure cases and homelessness, the Beauregard Parish School Board, in Louisiana, is adding a new position to better serve its homeless students, reports Billie Ho Rassat of the Beauregard Daily News. The foreclosure crisis, which has forced many families into homelessness, has urged a number of schools to approve similar positions to identify homeless students and help them concentrate of their schoolwork. In Beauregard Parish there are 80 children officially homeless, and the administration wants to make sure they stay in the system.

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The school board in Muscatine, Iowa, voted on Monday to unanimously approve spending $23,000 from the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the hiring of four tutors to work with homeless families, reports Cynthia Beaudette for the Muscatine Journal. The small-town school district has over 150 homeless students, and the new tutors will hold sessions designed to let those kids concentrate on their homework. The tutoring sessions will feature healthy snacks, child care for younger siblings, and encourages parents to attend and get involved in their children's education.

(Is it just us kids, or is there something oddly cruel about this lede? "Just because a student doesn't have a home doesn't mean he or she shouldn't have homework.")

HuffPost readers: Seen a good local story? Heard about a heroic judge, neighbor, or doctor helping people stay in their homes? Tell us about it! Email jmhattem@gmail.com.