As part of the federal pandemic aid package, Georgia schools are getting $28 million to expand resources for students experiencing homelessness — a broad term that includes students living in hotels or with relatives, in addition to those who have nowhere to go.
Gwinnett and DeKalb, the largest and third-largest school systems in the state, respectively, are slated to receive more than $900,000 each — more than any other districts. About 1,400 DeKalb students are currently experiencing homelessness. In Gwinnett, it’s about 1,000, according to the district.
Georgia counted 41,600 students experiencing homelessness in fiscal year 2019, but 35,600 in 2020. Duffield suspects the actual count increased.
That’s why using the funds to hire additional staff members to find and connect with families is a priority for DeKalb, said Denise Revels, the district’s coordinator of social work services.
“A lot of times families may not be aware of the types of services we can provide to them, and unknowingly are keeping kids out of school,” she said. “We can be that calm in the midst of your storm for that child.”
Both districts plan to bolster their supplies of food gift cards and vouchers for hotel stays or transportation. The DeKalb school system hopes to open a student services center where families can get items such as food, hygiene products and school supplies with no turnaround time. Currently, school staff must coordinate with the district to pick up whatever the family needs and bring it back to the school.
Districts have three years to spend the allocation. Future funding isn’t guaranteed.
“The money will go away, but the need won’t,” said Tinisha Parker, the executive director of student services for Gwinnett schools, citing a desire to partner with community agencies to ensure the resources continue to be available. “Longevity is the key.”
The American Rescue Plan set aside $800 million for this group of students. That’s 1% of all federal K-12 education funding, Duffield said.
“This really should be the new normal,” she said.