Finding Home: Helping Homeless Students By Supporting Their Families

By David Boraks
February 13, 2020

Here’s a No. 1 ranking you don’t want: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leads North Carolina with the largest population of homeless students — more than 4,700 last year. A new program by two Charlotte agencies aims to help some of those students by getting their families into stable housing and higher-paying jobs.

Improving child and family stability was one of three main recommendations in the 2017 report of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force. The report says “stress can be overwhelming for the entire family and have lasting impacts … on the lives and outcomes of children.”

You don’t have to tell that to Da’Monique Leggett and her 12-year-old daughter, Erica. Since they moved to Charlotte from Cleveland four years ago, they’ve been in and out of homelessness, even though Da’Monique hasn’t had trouble finding work. She’s worked in housekeeping, at Dunkin Donuts, and at Spectrum Center for a while.

“I just took whatever job I could get, pretty much, to make ends meet,” she said. “At one point in time, I had three jobs. And it still wasn’t enough.”

She eventually got a job as a hairdresser, and she and her daughter found an old but affordable apartment in north Charlotte. That lasted about a year, until the salon where she worked was sold, and all the staff got laid off. Without that job, she couldn’t afford the $750-a-month rent and broke her lease.

“I stayed with a relative for a little bit,” Da’Monique said. “And then it kind of became a little bit overwhelming for the relative, so I chose to go elsewhere.”

New Job, Same Housing Trouble

Then, things took a turn for the better. Da’Monique found a job with a big lawn care company earning $15 an hour plus commission. But housing remained a struggle. She could afford an apartment, but not the security deposit and up-front rent. So she and Erica were stuck in a weekly-rate hotel in northeast Charlotte, paying $380 a week.

Many local homelessness programs are aimed at those on the street, but not those who have temporary and unstable housing. About 15% of those homeless students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are living in hotels or motels.

“These are people who are working every day,” said Floyd Davis, CEO of the nonprofit housing group Community Link. “Fortunately, they were able to have a place to sleep last night.”

But they don’t qualify for some help that’s available.

“These are people who cannot access the federal funds to assist them in dealing with homelessness,” Davis said.

So Community Link has joined forces this year with another nonprofit, A Child’s Place, to start a program called Family & Child Stability Services. It stepped in this summer to help Da’Monique, with housing and career training — so she can eventually earn more.

Working With CMS

Families recommended for the program are identified through Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Da’Monique’s daughter, Erica, is already in a federally mandated CMS program that provides transportation so she can stay at the same middle school (James Martin), even as they’ve moved around the city at the edge of homelessness. This new program offers ongoing support to families of elementary and middle schoolers, said Kimberly Caldwell, program manager with A Child’s Place.

“There is a representative from A Child’s Place as well as someone from Community Link who are providing case management to the student, whether that’s during the school day, as well as working in the home with the parent on any type of goals, whether it’s educational employment goals, or anything that’s needed to help them sustain in their new housing,” Caldwell said.

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