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Teachers, school districts and nonprofits team up to help metro homeless students succeed

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Thousands of students in the metro don't have a place to call home. They're staying in shelters, sleeping in cars or crashing at a relative's place.

Many kids end up turning to their schools to get help.

Every morning is a test for Salome Murray's patience. She's taking care of her five grandchildren. She gained custody after their mother -- her daughter -- went to jail to serve a five-year sentence.

Salome Murray

"I ended up with them," she said. "Who else was they going to get? I mean their father is nowhere around, and so it was me."

But it hasn't been easy.

"It was really hard. I cried a lot of nights in bed wondering what am I gonna do today?" she told FOX 4's Matt Stewart.

Tatianna is the second oldest of Murray's grandchildren, a sixth-grader thriving in the classroom despite missing her mom.

"When I found out my mom was going to jail, I felt like crying for days, and I didn't want to do anything besides stay in my bed," she said.

Murray moved Tatianna and her siblings from Iowa to KCK to start a new life. But when they arrived, they didn't know anyone or where to go for help.

"I didn't have nothing," Murray said. "I have nothing to sit on. We didn't even have clothes. We had clothes. We had summer clothes, but we didn't have winter clothes."

Fortunately, there was help available at the children's school.

"Helping her is what we do our jobs for," said Jessica Smith, the homeless liaison for KCK Public Schools. "It's families like her family. She so appreciative. She's so sweet and nice."

Jessica Smith

Every school district is federally required to have a homeless liaison. Smith's job is to identify students without a permanent home and help their families any way she can.

They receive donations from the community: clothes, food, toothpaste, coats, school supplies, gift cards and more.

"Just those basic needs we try to meet," Smith said. "We try to break down any barriers."

The KCK School District partners with the KCK nonprofit Avenue of Life to help these families find permanent housing -- and they`re not alone. Other school districts here in the metro also team up with local nonprofits to assist their homeless students.

"I think with parents, they get scared to let us know that something is going on," Smith said. "They are scared that someone's going to call child protection services and don't want to reach out for help."

That's why teachers are tasked with identifying homeless students and connecting them with the help they need.

"No kid can learn if they're hungry," said Molly Bachkora, a sixth grade science teacher at Arrowhead Middle School. "They can't learn if they are cold or if they didn't have a good night sleep, and so any resource we can help them with is kind a like an added part of our job."

"It's life-changing so all these babies are not sleeping in the car. They're not bouncing around from school to school," Smith said. "If a child stays at the same school, research shows they will do better academically."

Now Murray doesn't have to stress because she knows her grandchildren will get to school safely and have food on the table and a warm bed to sleep in when they get home.

"I try to keep them safe, and the school board has helped me do that," Murray said. "They really, really have."

The biggest service districts offer is transportation to and from a kids' school -- no matter where they are staying and no matter how long the drive.

Help is there. If you need it, call your school to connect with the homeless liaison in your district.

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