News 13 Investigates: More homeless students in WNC

The Salvation Army in downtown Asheville has three rooms available for families. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Right now, about 500 kids in the Buncombe County area are homeless.

The number of children in the mountains without a permanent place to live is higher than it's ever been.

News 13 looked into the reasons behind the increase and how schools are addressing the growing issue with fewer funds.

Families without homes

Every afternoon Erika Miller waits for her kids at the bus stop.

As soon as her two girls jump off, they start chatting about their day, just like most kids.

But instead of walking to their front door, they walk through the door at the Salvation Army shelter.

Miller and her three kids have been living in one room for the last few months.

"We are really fortunate. They are not too bad on us with rules. I'm able to have my kids with me instead of being separated from them," Miller said.

Miller is grateful for the small space they do have, since they could be facing freezing winter nights out on the street.

"This is where we live right now. Sometimes, it gets hard, but we make do," Miller said.

About a mile away, Ashley Skrine is raising her young son in a similar shelter.

"I stayed in a hotel for a week and a half and then found out about the Steadfast House," Skrine said.

She recently got back custody of her little boy and is planning to move back to Texas soon.

"It's difficult, but we get through it because we have a very good support system here," Skrine said.

She said a lack of affordable housing and resources pushes many local families to the streets.

"Getting yourself on your feet and staying on your feet to be able to get out of a place like this is very difficult because there are not a lot of places that will help you," Skrine said.

School systems' support

Now, school districts are trying harder than ever to identify homeless students and get them help.

Many schools in our area now have supply closets filled with donated items.

"We have families who might need blankets in their cars or tents, so we try to have them on hand," said Christine Craft, Homeless Education liaison with Buncombe County Schools.

Right now, in the Buncombe County School District, 355 kids are considered homeless. In Asheville City Schools, there are 142 students without a permanent address right now.

"We look at families who are living on the streets. We do have families in cars and sheds ... and in places not meant for families to live," Craft said.

Craft said the biggest reasons for the increase in homeless children are a lack of affordable housing, more opioid addictions and domestic violence.

Each school district now has a homeless liaison to help identify students who need help and coordinate with charities and shelters to get them safe places to stay.

"Many of these children are not seen by our community, so they would be struggling in quiet," Kate Perrotta said.

Perrotta, the liaison with Asheville City Schools, said many families double up or stay in motels, and for some it's even worse.

"They're worried, they're worried throughout their school day. They're preoccupied with where are they going to sleep at night. They're worried about their parents being able to provide for them. It's a lot of stress on children trying to go to school every day and learn," Perrotta said.

But, while the number of children in need is growing, funds are shrinking.

Federal grant money adds up to $45,000 a year in Buncombe County.

In Transylvania County, homeless education liaison Beth Branagan said the money only covers administrative costs.

That means everything for the kids comes exclusively from donations.

"Spend a lot of sleepless nights thinking about them, but we do all we can to help them find the resources," Branagan said.

Each school is now trying to team up with a local church to provide the clothes, supplies and food for students.

And moms like Miller try to make the most of a reality most of us can't imagine.

"The main thing was trying to make sure they are happy, because kids get depressed, too," Miller said.

Local school districts said more students are classified as homeless now, because their programs are working to identify struggling families and get them the help they need.

The homeless liaisons News 13 talked to said the problem will only get worse until more affordable housing is available.

If you would like to donate money or supplies, contact your school district.

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