- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - Homeless. It was a designation that ultimately helped resolve then-12th-grader Brianna Allen’s fears over finding a home, eating lunch and, ultimately, attending college.

“I wasn’t prepared for that word,” Allen, 19, told the Jonesboro Sun (https://bit.ly/1TuJocp ). “I didn’t go around and tell people. It was pretty shocking to have that word, but, if anything, it helped. I was surprised this would ever happen to me.”

Allen, an Arkansas State University music performance major on bassoon, found herself without a home the first week of classes during the 2014-15 school year. Allen, whose mother is homeless, said extended family offered to help, but they lived outside of the Jonesboro School District.

A friend provided her a place to stay temporarily, but Allen finally broke down and called her band director. He quickly took action, and Allen’s school counselor soon registered her as homeless.

It was then she learned that the designation meant she could live outside of the district if necessary and still go to JHS. Her family, who lived in neighboring towns, quickly agreed to help make it work.

“I went to Westside my whole life, and I switched to Jonesboro to go to a better band program so not lot of people knew except my teachers so no one teased or harassed me,” Allen said. “Of course being classified as homeless, my lunches were paid for. Before that, friends had helped pay for lunch. The Westside band teacher helped me a lot.”

Allen was one of 413 students classified homeless in the 2014-15 school year, up from 364 students the year before. Of those kids, four lived in shelters, 396 were doubled-up with another family, one lived in a hotel or motel and 12 were unaccompanied by adults.

There were 485 students this past school year, of which eight lived in a shelter, 470 were doubled-up, one was unsheltered and five lived in hotels or motels.

Craighead County superintendents acknowledge the homeless count has slowly increased each year. Bay Superintendent Chip Layne said it is becoming more of a problem but that the classification includes different criteria than what one would initially consider.

When a person not affiliated with a school hears the word homeless, he or she think the child is living on the streets, not that they could be living with someone else’s family, Layne said.

“It’s a shame no matter what the reason they are labeled that because, obviously, their situation is not great,” he said.

The school districts each have a homeless liaison who works to ensure those students get additional resources. Jonesboro Assistant Superintendent Karleen Sheets said students are identified through paperwork done at the start of the year, although the number of kids classified differs as living situations change throughout the year.

The designation does not carry over to the next school year and, once a child is identified, administrators also look to see if there are siblings who may or may not have the same living situation who also need additional services, Sheets said.

Those classified as homeless receive meals at no cost. School officials said they work hard to make sure students have what they need inside and outside of school, including school supplies and meals.

At Valley View, Superintendent Bryan Russell said many students classified homeless are doubled-up with another family. He credits it to the economy.

The economy in Jonesboro is pretty good - constant growth in housing and jobs combined with good schools - so more people are moving to the area to find work and staying with relatives as they adjust, Russell said.

Regardless of the reason, Allen would tell teens who find themselves classified as homeless that it will be OK.

“When you are older, this will be just a small issue, and you want to be able to look back and say, ‘I pushed on and survived,’” Allen said. “Stay positive, do good things and push on because it will definitely get better. I’m stressed out as a college student, but I’m in a better place.”

Her school counselor encouraged Allen to apply for a Philanthropic Educational Organization (P.E.O.) national scholarship for young women who go through diversity. She received it and others.

Allen, who works for her bassoon professor’s reed company, has now finished her first year at ASU. This past semester, she was a member of ASU’s Symphonic Band and its Bassoon Quartet. The quartet will perform later this summer at an international music festival and school in Saarberg, Germany.

She hopes to one day try out for the U.S. Marine Corps band. She said her final year in high school taught her there will be tough times, but to continue moving forward.

“I feel like after I went through that I can push on and do anything because that first week was crazy,” Allen said. “I know I can do difficult tasks. I know I can get through difficult tasks and succeed.”


Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com

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