W.Va. youth homelessness has increased by 14% in the past 5 years



CHARLESTON, W.Va – On February 8, WV KIDS COUNT released an Issue Brief on the rising numbers of children and youth experiencing homelessness across the state of West Virginia.

The brief explained youth homelessness and its surrounding issues provided by the West Virginia Department of Education, and identify resources available in the education and community-based sectors within the state.

WV KIDS COUNT explained that it wants to bring awareness to West Virginia’s youth homelessness epidemic and encourage advocates to take action for these children. A child is identified as homeless when their nighttime residence is one of the following: sheltered, doubled up, unsheltered, or hotel/motel.

According to the West Virginia Department of Education, there were as many as 10,417 youth experiencing homelessness during the 2019-2020 school year and 10,552 during the 2018-2019 school year, which is an increase of about 14% since the 2014-2015 school year (8,959).

The WV Department of Education has a significant impact on children due to using data to determine how grant funding and county-based support are allocated. This data is used to understand the current issues and needs of enrolled children in the state. This primary picture helps create many data products that public and private sectors use every day to support and provide resources to alleviate homelessness.

Companies and public services benefit heavily from this data due to the crucial demographic information it produces. In fact, the WV KIDS COUNT State Data Book provides information on West Virginia’s children’s well-being, and much of this information, including education and health, relies on the most recent numbers available from the WV Department of Education.

KIDS COUNT establishes partnerships with organizations that are topic experts on key child and family issues to strengthen our voice. The Homelessness brief partnership included the WV Department of Education and WVDOE’s State Coordinator, Rebecca Derenge.

The state of West Virginia currently offers state and county-based education resources, including attendance directors and homeless liaisons for each county to access Title I funds that provide various items, services, and support to eligible students. The West Virginia Department of Education rewarded a total of $505,631 in grants to 14 counties to support a variety of needs and services for homeless youth. There are also grants that counties can apply for ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 to supply resources and support to enrolled youth experiencing homelessness.

On a community-based level, there are programs and resources available; however, due to the rising numbers of youth homeless, improving community engagement is imperative. Bureaus such as the US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families reward grant funding to community-based resource programs across the state to provide services to eligible children.

Other organizations, including the Mid-Town Family Resource Center, offer more hands-on resources to community programs that focus on education, resilience training, job support, family planning, and more. Engaged community volunteers are also vital in supporting the affected children.

“The number of youth experiencing homelessness in West Virginia has both alarmed and inspired me to be part of the solution. Family homelessness is exploding because the demographics of the family have changed.  Poverty, grandparents raising grandchildren, the opioid epidemic, lack of affordable housing, and living through a pandemic are some of the factors that impact homelessness. Children who are homeless typically face adverse events before they even enter school. Imagine what getting ready for school looks and feels like. This is compounded by research that says children who experience Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are statistically more likely to experience lifelong negative effects on physical and mental health, said Tricia Kingery, WV KIDS COUNT Executive Director. 

Kingery continued, “With rising numbers, these kids need services and resources beyond shelters that include access to timely specialized physical and mental health services. It takes all of us – educators, healthcare and social service providers, employers, childcare workers, faith community, coaches, and more – to prevent homelessness and intervene as soon as possible. Anyone who works with children should have their eyes and ears wide open, so they can ‘be the one’ who champions what is best for them.” 

Additional information is available by clicking here, which contains the most recent national, state, and local data on hundreds of indicators of a child’s well-being. 

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