Among almost 15,000 students within the Hardin County Schools district, 25 are homeless or in inadequate housing situations.
To alleviate this as much as possible, the district uses its resources to help these students and families.
Lynnette Kennedy, homeschool-community liaison at Hardin County Schools, works side by side with family resource coordinators at all the schools to help families who are homeless or are on the verge of being homeless. The process begins with Kennedy receives a referral, usually from a family resource coordinator. She then reaches out to the family and collects information. She asks them about their housing situation, jobs, backgrounds, history with the school, transportation, money and many other subjects.
Kennedy said her goal is to be certain this family is having problems with housing and is not just a “lifestyle.”
From there, Kensaid the district has partnerships with several hotels in the area. Once a family is identified to be in a housing crisis, they’ll put them immediately in a hotel to stay in within 48 hours of contact.
They then follow the family for 18 months and keep the children in school.
“Every situation is unique and it takes a team of us to try to, you know, get to the bottom of … what exactly is going on and what’s our best way that we can actually help this family stabilize … and help them move forward and be successful,” Kennedy said.
On her first day of work in March 2018, she said there were seven or eight referrals she needed to see.
In the first year, there were 29 referrals that impacted 60 school-aged children. The next year, there were 62 referrals that impacted 92 students.
Inadequate housing is defined as possibly living in a house, but it might be missing important structures such as windows, beds and floors.
Kennedy said the numbers of people affected directly by the COVID-19 pandemic are not included in these numbers. She said this is because these families are not homeless yet, as they have received aid and leeway from the government.
She said there are 21 families in these situations with 54 additional children. On Dec. 31, when certain aid and benefits expire at the end of the year, she said it’ll be a much different reality.
Kennedy said the district will need about $53,578 to stabilize those affected by the pandemic.
In some ways, she said the pandemic has benefitted some people in that those who had a job that wasn’t paying well, now are receiving unemployment which may pay more.
In some cases, a person may have a job, but their hours get cut, so they’re unable to apply for unemployment and receive less pay.
The Healthy at Home Eviction Fund has been used to help families avoid being evicted by landlords who need rental revenue to pay their mortgage, Kennedy said. She said this benefit has been denied for some families and accepted for others.
Kennedy said she has tried her best to apply for grants to receive more money for these families. Currently, they’re partnered with Hardin Community Action and Salvation Army.
Paying for one family for stay at a decent hotel costs about $700 a week with cheaper ones costing about $350 a week. She said there are families who have lived in hotels for six or seven months.
Per family, Kennedy said it would take about $2,500 to fully help families to get themselves together, which also includes educational classes to help provide coaching on money and other life skills.
Kennedy said her original goal was to substantially help at least four families per year, which would cost about $10,000. Ideally, she now hopes to set up at least 10 families per year.
Arie, a name she chose to use instead of her real name, is one of the more recent individuals directly affected by the district’s help.
She and her family moved from their home state last year to Hardin County to take care of her husband’s mother-in-law. They have a 14-year-old and a set of twins.
Before the beginning of fall break, her mother-in-law died of liver cancer. Arie said after this, they began to be mistreated at the house where other family members lived.
They decided for fall break to take the children to visit their other grandmother. On the way back to Kentucky, they received a call and were told to not come back to the house they were living in. Arie is African-American, and they were told the color her skin and also the kids’ skins were the reason they didn’t want them back.
“They said they didn’t want any of the ‘N-word smell’ in their home anymore,” Arie said.
Both Arie and her husband have jobs. However, they paid large expenses for the funeral and burial of her mother-in-law, which left them nearly broke.
After realizing they were homeless with little money, she decided to call the school district.
Arie said she decided to call the school because since moving, she has volunteered at the kids’ schools and talked with teachers about their situation. After becoming homeless, she decided to call a teacher, since her family knew very few other people in the area.
Within the day, they were able to put them in a hotel, and a few days later, they were able to find a three-bedroom house for the family in Elizabethtown which they began moving into Monday.
“That was just so amazing, just to have good people like that,” Arie said.
She said the district was also able to keep her children on the right track with school supplies and made sure they had Chromebooks.
Arie said for those in the area that may be struggling with housing, it’s best not to get one’s pride in the way if you do really need help.
“Even though we’re not like a real low-income type family, I had to put my pride aside and say, ‘Hey, I need help,’” Arie said.
Those wanting to directly help can make a check out to Hardin County Schools-Homeless Outreach Fund and can be sent to the district’s Central Office at 65 W.A. Jenkins Road. Kennedy said they use this for money for hotels, storage for people’s items, landlords, supplies and other items. She said they also take furniture donations.
“We will pay it forward once we get settled back in. Because this is one of the things you need to pay forward to. And these people went above and beyond,” Arie said.