North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness

Homelessness affects hundreds in NC county

GREENSBORO, N.C. — For two months last fall, the Coltrane sisters had no place to call home. They lived with friends, at a motel and briefly at a house with no stove or bathroom floor.

Those were trying times for 15-year-old LaRicó Coltrane, her older sister, Chantel, 17, and the youngest, 8-year-old Kashayia.

"We'd all be quiet, and Momma would be like, 'Say something, say something. We're all in this together,' " LaRico said. "And we'd all start crying because we didn't know what to say."

The News & Record of Greensboro reported they were not alone. More than 930 students in Guilford County schools are homeless, according to documents filed with the system. And school officials fear the number actually is much higher than that.

Terri Sims-Warren, a veteran social worker at Smith High School, estimates that 200 students there live in some state of homelessness. About 60 percent of those are homeless because of unemployment, she said.

"This year I'm seeing more than I've ever seen with Guilford County," Sims-Warren said.

The Coltrane family has an apartment now, but life remains a battle.

LaToya Coltrane, the 35-year-old mother of the girls, admits she's made her share of mistakes that put the family through hard times.

Four years ago Coltrane spent a year in prison on drug charges. Since getting out she's struggled to find a job. Her felony record makes finding work that much harder.

"I tell my kids all the time that in every family you have to break the chain," Coltrane said. "I tell them you have to do better than I have, I'm a failure. That's why they all have straight A's."

Coltrane knows a good education is the only way her girls will have a better life, she said.

The walls of the bedroom shared by her daughters are covered with awards - social studies, honor roll, dance and many more.

But it isn't all work and no play. LaRicó and Chantel are on their school band's dance team. The two sit on their beds and do homework together, listening to their small radio. When a song comes on they consider "hot," they hop off the beds and dance.

"Music will take my mind off anything," Chantel said.

School officials fear the number of homeless students this year will surpass the nearly 1,300 documented during last school year.

And social workers like Sims-Warren believe the number is much higher than documented. Only about 20 of the estimated 200 homeless students at Smith have filed the paperwork needed to receive assistance - specifically help with transportation, Sims-Warren said.

Some families don't fill out the paperwork because of the difficulties they face, or because of embarrassment, she said. Some remain in the school's attendance zone and are still able to ride the bus to school.

Richard Tuck, who supervises the system's social workers, is getting word out about the services available to homeless students and their families. Such students can enroll in school without proof of residence, immunizations or school records. The system will assist in getting the necessary records, providing transportation and helping students remain in their original school.

Tuck said students dealing with homelessness often miss many days of school, which puts them at risk of dropping out.

Schools have partnered with local aid agencies and churches to provide additional assistance to students and their families. Those networks can also help families get re-established.

One of the largest resources in that network is Greensboro Urban Ministry and its new transitional housing program, Pathways Center. The group operates a temporary shelter and works to resettle homeless families quickly.

Pathways director Mark Sumerford said he sees about 100 school-age children every year.

The shelter can take in about 16 families, but there are 42 families on the waiting list, Sumerford said. That's nearly double the average.

"It's become harder and harder to find housing they can afford," he said. "The hard thing is the frustration that you hear in the people's voices as they try to get services - you can hear the anger, the frustration, the fear every day."

Homelessness can happen to any family. Single parents, two-parent families, families with good jobs and no jobs, Sumerford said his shelter sees them all.

And it often happens to a family more than once, he said.

The Coltranes are hanging on. LaToya said she applies for several jobs every day. She's certified in several adult care-giving skills and would like a job helping people. But right now, she said, she is willing to take anything.

Her money has all but dried up. She fears she and the girls will be back on the streets soon. She said she cries when the girls aren't home and considers letting them live with her mother. But she's not ready to give them up or give up on herself.

"Statistically they're set up to fail, I know that," she said. "But I'm not going to let that happen."
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