Leaders in Hernando County are increasing efforts to help the homeless -- specifically children.
With trucks full of groceries, canned goods and non-perishable items, people in need got some free meals in Hernando Tuesday. It’s just one of the ways local leaders are working to getting a homeless count.
“They’re living in their car, in the woods, on the street, in even in abandoned buildings. We have a number of people who live in sheds,” said Doug Brainard, president of People Helping People.
Among the homeless are children with working parents who can’t afford to find a place to live.
“A lot of the children we get are in situations where they’ve lost their home, and they’re temporarily staying with someone else,” said Shanika Figueroa Rodriguez.
Homeless liaison Shanika Figueroa Rodriguez says there were more than 520 homeless students in Hernando last year, and 330 students this year. The county says the reason there are so many is because of a lack of affordable housing.
“Affordable housing for these families is $200 or $300 a month. We don’t have any place that offers that, and we don’t have transitional housing either,” Rodriguez said.
The program within the school system is for students and families in transition. Their goal is to keep children in school regardless of not having proof of residency or proper documents. They’re also given free breakfast, lunch and all basic needs.
“We help with school supplies, backpacks, uniforms if it’s a uniform school, regular clothes if not... We also do toiletries,” she said.
The county is partnering with apartments to offer affordable housing, but options are limited.
In the meantime, Rodriguez says if they can take the load off parents by helping children, maybe parents will have the opportunity to help themselves.
“I know that we can address the issue if there was more unity. If people would come as a unit and say, 'You know what, we really need to take a stand on this,'” she said.