Number of homeless students in AISD on the rise

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by SHANNON MURRAY / KVUE NEWS and Photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @ShannonM_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on August 22, 2013 at 5:26 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 22 at 5:54 PM

AUSTIN -- The number of homeless students in the Austin Independent School District is on the rise.

There are around 2,017 homeless students in AISD, and school board members say that is a conservative estimate. Now they hope affordable housing bonds will provide solutions to get the families back home.

"She loves to paint and draw ,and I just like to watch her," said Lisa Harper of her daughter Brittany.

Harper watched her daughter create another masterpiece. Like any good mother, that's how she sees it.

"I just love it all. I want to hang it all up," Harper said.

That's not something she could have done just one year ago. After a back injury at work, Harper had to reduce her hours, forcing her to move in with a relative and share a cramped room with her daughter.

"Teenage girl sharing a room with her mom, that's not good. You know, you have no space, no privacy and that was really difficult," Harper said.

Maybe even more difficult was the guilt this mother felt every day.

"Like I was failing. Like I failed her and I didn't know how to help her," Harper said.

She says her daughter lost confidence and stopped hanging out with friends in fear of them finding out she was homeless. Now thanks to an affordable housing bond in 2006, Harper and her daughter are in a home of their own.

"We love it here. You know, it's so spacious and most important of all, it's our home," Harper said.

"I saw the impacts of homelessness on a daily basis," said Education Austin President Ken Zarifis.

Zarifis also taught in AISD for 12 years. He says the number of homeless students continues to grow, and it's time for Austin to sit up and take notice.

"At the end of the day the kids are our future, and if we believe that the kids who are homeless are any less valuable than the kids who come from a secure home, then we're not being fair to all of our kids," Zarifis said.

"We're back to where were before. We're much, much closer," Harper said of her relationship with Brittany.

That's a relief for her mother as Brittany faces a new challenge. Her senior year in high school starts on Monday.

"These are my kids, and I am not letting them down," Harper said.

A new $65 million affordable housing bond will be up for a vote this November.

Right now the district has 2,017 homeless students. That's up from last year with 1,975.

Here's how those numbers were broken down In the 2011-2012 school year:

  • 479 students lived in shelters.
  • 1,320 students lived with family or friends temporarily.
  • 26 were unsheltered -- meaning they lived in a car or on a campground.
  • 150 students lived in motels.

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