West Virginia has a homeless population of 1,309 people and families, not including transients that pass through the state, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A majority of the homeless population resides in the capital city of Charleston.

According to the state’s homeless education coordinator, Rebecca Derenge, in 2014 there were around 2,000 public school students qualifying as homeless. Of those students, 70 percent were living with grandparents or family members in close quarters, while 25 percent of the students were living in shelters. The rest were living on the streets or in motels.

Many students who are homeless do not meet benchmarks for tests because they are most likely thinking more about where they are going to sleep or where their next meal will come from than any school work. Only about half of the homeless students meet the benchmarks in reading and math.

In Huntington, which is facing a serious drug epidemic, the specialists at the full-service shelter work one-on-one with the students every day and reward them with presents if they can prove they are making good grades. There are programs schools have to help the homeless and low income students, such as free or reduced lunch and sending bags of food with them on weekends and long breaks. Some schools are even able to provide students with clothing, shoes and personal hygiene products.

When many people, especially young people, hear the word “homeless,” they may think of an older, dirty person shoving around a buggy with all of their belongings and do not think that it could be someone they go to school with. It is a real issue that is not spoken about as often as it should be.

If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness or may need help in some way, below are a few resources that may help you:

  • A school counselor
  • Davis Child Shelter — Charleston — 304-345-3891
  • Huntington Child Shelter — Ona — 304-743-2345
  • Cammack Children’s Center — Huntington — 304-523-3497