Number of homeless youth in Tennessee grows at alarming rate

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BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) - A home is a place of stability for most kids and teens, but more than 11,000 in Tennessee are getting by without one. A new report from the state of Tennessee shows our number of homeless kids in public school has increased more than 70 percent, nearly double the rate of the national average.

The state hasn't presented a reason for our struggling statistics, but many have guessed.

"We've had the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program which allowed us to try to keep families from becoming homeless in the first place. But that funding stream ended and is non renewable. So when that money disappeared, a lot of people who might've been right on the edge of homelessness now have no gap. There's nothing... the safety net is gone," said TVCEH Director of Finance and Operations Tonia Latham.

Experts say many homeless kids go unreported, but the Tennessee Valley Coalition to End Homelessness has hope for the future. This is the first year the Department of Housing and Urban Development is requiring a homeless youth count. TVCEH hopes new and more realistic numbers will free up new funding streams for programs to help these kids.

"They didn't get to make that choice.They didn't... there was nothing they could do to control the situation. So if a child's feeling that in the home situation that's definitely going to transfer over to the school situation. That lack of control," said Latham.

Experts say it also leads to delayed development, learning disabilities and emotional and behavioral elements.

Jessica Dente agrees. The single mom of two lost her home in August.

"I lost two jobs. I lost... my unemployment ran out last year. And there was no money," said Dente. "You think to yourself, I'm not that far away. I don't know too many people who aren't 2 paychecks away from being homeless. And then you think to yourself, I'm gonna be homeless. And then you say, oh no that will never happen. But it does happen."

The family of three says they're getting by, but Jessica says she's her oldest 14-year-old Cassie suffering more than 5-year-old Grace.

"Sometimes you have a really bad day at home and sometimes you want to peel the smile off of your face and just go lay in bed for a while. And you can't really do that because there's always people to socialize with," said Cassie.

The Dente's are part of Blount County's Family Promise program. They hope to have a place they can call their own in January.

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