200 homeless kids in DOCO schools

Number of homeless kids in DCSS climbing. / Jessica Fairley

Recently, the issue of poverty and homelessness within the southwest Georgia area has grown and now officials are finding that the problem has trickled down into the school system.

When most people think of students, they see fun and laugher, but may not know the pain hiding behind those smiles. Many children in the Dougherty County School System are facing homelessness.

"We've identified close to 200 documented and that's not the ones that we had to go and identify as homeless," said DCSS Homeless Liason Social Worker Marion Stevens.

Stevens works within a team that includes Santrina Ball and Tracy Colbert. The Dougherty County School System social workers say these numbers are staggering number for the population.

They say what makes the situation worse is not knowing that a child is homeless.

"I think our biggest issue is locating them once they get displaced. We have to get out and physically look for them," said Stevens.

Once the children are located, officials begin the process of starting over by using money set aside through federal programs to purchase book bags, books, clothes and even personal items for the homeless students.

Stevens says people don't think about it, but when a parent loses everything, so do their children.

Since local shelters and transitional houses are filled, she says they have to improvise.

"Last week Ms. Ball and I were trying to get money to pay for a hotel to keep a family stable and we have to do that to keep a child stable," explained Marion Stevens.

The social workers say after a new school survey comes back, they're expecting the child homeless population to jump.

They believe the issue of homelessness not only affects the children's physical being but it also affects them mentally.

"They have to deal with displacement, how they're going to get to school, and then they also have that feeling that maybe it's something they did to make their mom lose their house," said DOCO social worker Marion Stevens.

Officials stress that it's not the child's fault and it's not about who's to blame. They say the most important thing is getting the kids back on track.

"We provide counseling; we provide additional tutoring if they need it. Anything that would make our children succeed, we provide," said Marion Stevens.

She says the school system is a safe haven for children in need because in the end it may be education that changes their lives.

"The way out of a bad situation is often through education and we feel like the next generation will be better prepared to deal with the future than the past generation," said DCSS Public Information Officer R.D. Harter.

This is why authorities are addressing the issue: to give each child, regardless of circumstance, a chance to grow up and become a positive contributor to society.

Stevens says although the school system can't take donations, the public should still reach out to shelters and safe houses during the holiday season. They say you never know who will be there waiting for help.