CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Right now, 7,720 students in West Virginia schools have been identified by the Department of Education as homeless.
Frances Pack has spent nearly a decade making sure those students get the education they need.
"A school counselor actually just called me saying a family's home burned down and asked, 'What do we do?' They know to call me with the details. Counselors and attendance directors are my best allies," said Pack, the homeless facilitator for Kanawha County Schools.
Last year, 935 students were identified as homeless in Kanawha County.
When it comes to data collection in schools, the term "homeless" could mean a variety of things. The student may be living with someone who's not their legal guardian or in a shelter. He or she may be in between foster homes or reside in a hotel with family. Or, the child or teen might live in a car or an abandoned building.
"Every year the number increases, usually by about 200 students. Yes, more students are homeless than in the past, but we've also gotten better at identifying them," Pack said.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which was reauthorized in 2002, administers grant funding to support homeless youth outreach programs and provides an equal opportunity for a public education.
Nearly 20 different grants are in place to support the West Virginia Department of Education to help gather comprehensive information about children and youths and the obstacles that stand in the way of their regular attendance in school.
Homeless liaisons such as Pack are leading those efforts, doing everything from providing transportation for the student to get to school and working to ensure students in temporary homes don't have to jump between school districts.
Each time a student changes schools, it could set their progress back by four to six months, Pack said.