Bobby is a charismatic, personable second-grader who stops and says hello to everyone he passes in the school hallway at Emma Elementary School. He has positivity uncommon for most 7-year-olds, and his attitude is even more impressive when you discover that he has been homeless for the past year and a half.
Amanda Fox, Children First/CIS student support specialist at Emma Elementary School, was first introduced to Bobby by Karen Klutz, the school social worker, who had been working with Bobby and his family. A while later, she received a call from Valerie Hicks-Leacock, a care manager from Community Care of Western North Carolina.
“I found out that Bobby’s family had lost their housing about a year ago and that he had spent months living in a camper in a flea market parking lot with his grandparents,” says Amanda.
As a student support specialist for Children First/CIS, a local nonprofit that serves children and families living in economic insecurity, Amanda’s role is to provide students with tailored resources to help them be prepared for school. This is achieved by working with a team of school personnel and community agencies.
“Valerie called me to see if Children First/CIS could help provide emergency assistance to get his family into housing,” says Amanda.
Meanwhile, Bobby and his grandparents were still living in the camper, which was becoming untenable. They reached out to friends and family to see if they could spend a few weeks at a time at their homes.
This type of living situation is all too common for the over 700 schoolchildren that were classified as homeless last year. Commonly referred to as “doubling up,” this is a situation where multiple families share a home. While it addresses having a place to stay, this solution presented its own set of problems. Bobby’s grandmother recalls how crowded the house was and the difficulties Bobby had in sleeping throughout the night because of the chaos and noise. Every few weeks, Bobby and his grandparents would move to another friend or family member’s home.
But they made the best of a difficult situation. When Bobby was staying somewhere off the school-bus route, his grandmother would ride with him to and from school on the city bus.
When Amanda brought Bobby’s transportation challenges to the attention of Emma Elementary School Principal Jeremy Stowe, he immediately contacted Christine Craft, Buncombe County Schools Homeless Liaison Youth in Transition coordinator, to arrange for the school bus to come to Bobby’s house and pick him up. His grandmother no longer had to spend hours on the city bus to get to and from school.
Under the McKinney-Vento Act, a federal law that ensures immediate enrollment and educational stability for homeless children and youth, students classified as homeless can receive transportation to the school they attended before their family became homeless or the school they last attended.
Meanwhile, Amanda was making weekly check-in visits with Bobby and calling his grandmother regularly. “Her number was on speed dial,” she says with a laugh. She got him signed up for the Children First/CIS Holiday Assistance Program, kept the school team of counselors, principal and social workers updated on his situation and provided Valerie with referrals to other agencies and faith communities that could help secure funding for housing.
“One of the things that really stood out about Bobby was just how positive and friendly he is to everyone,” says Amanda. “He knew he had one job to do and that was to come to school and do his work. I didn’t know where he got such a great attitude until I met his grandmother. That’s when I realized that he got his resiliency from her.”
Valerie, the care manager from Community Care of WNC, was still working diligently to secure permanent housing for Bobby and his grandparents.
“Her tenacity is so admirable,” says Amanda. “Bobby’s grandfather was in frail health, and Valerie’s goal was to get them into secure housing by the holidays. Unfortunately, he died the day after Christmas, but not before they got the notice that they would be able to move into their own housing in January. He died knowing that his family would be taken care of.”
In mid-January 2017, after 16 months of never knowing where he was going to rest his head at night, Bobby now has a stable home. Local religious organizations and churches such as St. Vincent de Paul and Jubilee! contributed funds as well as local nonprofits Eblen Charities, Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry and Children First/CIS. Bobby’s family from all over the country also sent money to help get them into housing.
He and his grandmother received a site-based housing voucher for Pisgah View Apartments, a property of the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville. This federally funded program provides low-cost housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly and persons with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development administers federal aid to local housing agencies that manage the housing for low-income residents at rents they can afford.
Amanda is thrilled that he will still be able to attend Emma Elementary School and stay connected to his friends, school counselors and social workers.
Bobby’s story highlights the spectrum of housing experiences that many families travel — homelessness, doubling up and public housing. This instability impacts families’ health, the ability to secure work and children’s academic success.
But his happy beginning came about through a lot of hard work and dedication from people working in public health, faith communities, government programs, nonprofits and public schools. Public policies also played a role in helping support Bobby and his grandparents during this tumultuous time in his life.
“He’s got a roof over his head now,” says Amanda with a smile. “No one person could have made this happen by themselves. It took all of us working together to make this possible.”
Addendum: Now that Bobby and his grandmother are in their own home, they are still in need of basic household items and furniture. If you would like to contribute new or gently used household items, please contact Amanda Fox at AmandaF@childrenfirstbc.org or call 828-620-8648. Help other families like Bobby’s secure safe housing that is affordable. Call your Buncombe County commissioners and Congressional leaders and let them know that everyone deserves a place to call home.
Jodi Ford is the outreach and engagement coordinator for Children First/Communities In Schools, a local nonprofit that believes all children deserve to reach their full potential. The organization helps achieve this by surrounding children and their families with supports that help them succeed in their schools, communities and homes. With staff placed in schools and communities with a high number of students receiving free and reduced meals, Children First/CIS helps children and families meet their basic needs, provides educational supports and teaches parenting and resiliency skills. Along with direct services, the organization provides strong advocacy to local and state leaders to ensure public policies are in place to support families. To find out more, go to www.childrenfirstcisbc.org.