News 12 Special Assignment: Children of the Streets

By: Elizabeth Owens Email
By: Elizabeth Owens Email

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW) -- It could be your neighbor's child, your son's classmate or your co-worker's daughter, and you may not even know. The number of homeless children in the CSRA is increasing.

Amidst our everyday life they live, often in secret and many times unnoticed.

"I just look at them and don't say nothing," said 8-year-old Kanya Brown.

Brown is a child of the streets.

"What do you pray to God for?" News 12's Elizabeth Owens asked.

"For my mom and dad trying to look for us a house," the child answered. "People always see that I live in a shelter and they say they have a big house."

Brown, along with his brothers, mother and father are sleeping at the Salvation Army. It's one step up from living out of their car.

"How does it make you feel?" Owens asked Shaquita Brown.

"Less of a parent. It really does," the mother said.

Brown lost her job more than a year ago, and for a long time, she kept her family afloat, but eventually the waves of life came crashing around her. She and her disabled husband, along with their four children, found themselves homeless.

From 2011 to 2012, the Salivation Army in Aiken reported a 21 percent increase in families served and a 72 percent increase the number of nights they had to stay.

"It is very difficult to turn people away, but the funding has been limited and the need has increased, so we are just doing the best we can," said Capt. Angie Repass with the Salvation Army.

The need to house homeless children and their parents has increased throughout the CSRA.

Aiken County has more identified homeless children in schools than Columbia and Richmond counties. Last year, they identified approximately 511 students in Aiken County Schools. This year, they predicts that number will exceed 600.

"It's not pleasant a thing to see a student come to school knowing that they stayed at a motel and didn't have breakfast that morning," said Sherida Stroman, the homeless liaison for Aiken County Schools.

"It's bad. It's really bad. Resources are depleted, people that used to donate to these agencies can't donate because they are strapped as well," she said.

She says part of the problem is the lack of affordable housing in Aiken County.

"It's sad, we want to be able to house everybody, we want to provide the assistance they need, but currently overwhelmed with the families needing assistance," said Chanosha Lawton with the Aiken Housing Authority.

The waiting list for Section 8 is closed in Aiken County and there there are a thousand families on the list. Public housing isn't much better. There are no openings and the waiting list will close the end of this month.

"We are saddened we aren't able to serve those individuals," Lawton said.

She says more transitional housing would help solve the problem.

Cynthia Clark and her five children recently moved into a transitional home after a year of staying in churches, couch surfing and going to day shelters.

"It changes your whole view on what homeless looks like, you'd be amazed because no one knew what my situation was," Clark said.

Brown worries the most about her children.

"The taunting and teasing, they had a child on the bus tell them Friday that's why you are living in a shelter and I'm living in a home," she said.

All she can tell her children is not to give up and to pray every day that one day they will have a place to call home, too.

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