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Charles County school system staff anticipate that more than 800 school children will be homeless by year’s end.

As requested by school board members at a previous meeting, the system’s hearing officer Karen Kunkel updated the board Tuesday on homeless students in county schools.

In June, there were 618 homeless children in schools, and as of Tuesday, Kunkel said, that number had increased to 796.

Kunkel said the increase in homeless children is not unique to Charles County and that numbers are increasing throughout the state.

While the economy plays a large role, Kunkel said many factors play into the increase, including a nine-year waitlist for Section 8 federally subsidized housing and no transitional housing available for children in the region.

“When someone is displaced, they have nowhere to go,” she said.

An elementary school student who was shadowing the school board Tuesday asked Kunkel what classifies a student as homeless.

Kunkel explained that a student counted as homeless does not always not have a roof over his head.

She said a person becomes homeless when a situation forces someone to be displaced from their home.

This could be due to many situations, including a loss of a job, domestic violence or a fire.

“Most times, it’s a sudden emergency, a fire or loss of job,” Kunkel said.

The federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 2002 mandates protections for homeless children. The school system receives funds through the act to provide resources and assistance for homeless students.

The act defines a homeless student as “an individual who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.”

Kunkel said one thing that sticks out regarding the school system’s population is the amount of children participating in Safe Nights.

Safe Nights, sponsored by LifeStyles of Maryland in Charles County, is a program that provides temporary shelter at county churches during the coldest months of the year.

Kunkel said that this year, there have been as few as two and as many as 12 children participating in the program each night.

Pupil personnel workers in the school system provide transportation for children participating in Safe Nights to get to school.

Kunkel said this is the first year since the program has been in operation that there have been children every night.

She said the question staff ask themselves is whether the system is providing what it can for students.

“I can tell you confidently that we are,” she said.

Through various programs and resources, Kunkel said, the idea is to give those who are not as advantaged as other students “a level playing field.”

Restrictions on releasing information about homeless students are very stringent, she said, adding that no one should be able to walk down a hallway at school, pass a child and be able to tell whether the child is homeless.

“We will supply whatever the child needs,” she said.

The school system works with a $33,000 budget for the children, and Kunkel said, “We make it work for us down to the very last penny.”

In addition to budgeted funds, students receive help through Title I opportunities and partnerships with outside agencies.

The Title I and homeless education offices of the schools work together to make sure student needs are met, parents are involved under Title I parent involvement policies and staff of both offices receive training on Title I and homeless education.

The Title I program provides federal funds to school districts with high proportions of disadvantaged students.

The funds go to schools, designated as meeting the requirements under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, based on the income level of students. Funds go toward technology and resources.

There are six Title I schools in Charles County: Eva Turner, Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, C. Paul Barnhart, J.P. Ryon, Indian Head and Mount Hope/Nanjemoy elementary schools.

The program provides funds for students 3 years old through fifth grade.

Student who do not attend a Title 1 school and are homeless are automatically eligible for Title 1 services.

Kunkel said the school system also has an “outstanding working relationship with county partners.”

For example, with the help of outside agencies, the school system is able to provide meals for students during the summer.

Board member Jennifer S. Abell asked if there was anything more the board could do to help the situation.

Kunkel said the board has been supportive and the relationships with county agencies are strong, so all that could be asked is that board members help by being advocates and promoting the recognition of those in need.

Charles County Superintendent of Schools James E. Richmond said the school system and county agencies have come together and “put what they could in the pot” to help those in need.

“We need to keep that going,” he said.

gphillips@somdnews.com