Students without a home: A look at homelessness in a county
AIKEN, S.C. (AP) — Cassy Bursey and Lisa Sims tell their story of being homeless with children in Aiken County and how one woman was the rock that got them through.
The two local women both say they are thankful to have found some hope for their displaced children, which comes in the form of Sherida Stroman, the McKinney-Vento lead student services coordinator, or homeless liaison, for the Aiken County Public School District.
Her title comes from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, which is a United States federal law that provides educational protections for children and youth experiencing homelessness.
Aiken County residents may not realize there are hundreds of homeless families in the area, which means there are hundreds of children who have no place to truly call home.
Stroman met with the Aiken Standard in early October and explained how she and volunteers take on such a tough task. She works directly with homeless families, and her job is to make sure the displaced children are enrolled in school and have everything they need.
As of Oct. 1, there were 216 homeless, or displaced, children in Aiken County.
“Those are just the ones we know,” Stroman said. “There are most likely many more.”
Stroman works alongside seven other student service workers who make sure each displaced child gets a proper education and are fed.
She teared up telling stories of displaced children who have had to deal with hardships many people can’t imagine.
“It’s the best job with the worst circumstances,” she said. “I got a situation now with a little girl whose mom died and that was all she had. Yet, there have been so many people who have been trying to help. These situations can be heartbreaking, but you have to stay strong for the children.”
Stroman said she makes sure all the children have transportation to and from school.
In an attempt to give these kids more stability, the school district will allow some of the kids to stay at their school of origin even if their zone changes, she said.
She also makes sure they all have somewhere to go when they get out of school.
“A lot of times they are in shelters and we have some that have reported to be living in cars; but when they live in cars and we find that out, we move them someplace else like maybe a hotel,” Stroman said. “Those who have been identified - we know where they live. We know where they are, and as the homeless liaison, I’m responsible for making sure that these kids are enrolled and that they are fully participating.”
Stroman also wanted to make it clear that the kids are not just dropped off from school at parks or on the side of the road.
“These young boys and girls are usually staying in hotels or shelters at the end of the day,” Stroman said.
Stroman works closely with these children, and has stood beside many of them from elementary school all the way up to their high school graduation.
“I’ve never had any children of my own, but these kids are all like mine.”
The System Works - success stories
Cassy Bursey moved to Aiken from Texas with her children a few years ago when she became homeless due to flooding.
“I immediately became homeless and I spoke to the homeless liaison there who opened up my eyes to the fact that there was more support in other places that I could probably use if I would decide to move away,” Bursey said. “So, I decided to come to South Carolina to be around my mom, who is the only person I have here.”
Bursey said one of the first things she did was get her kids into the local schools. Her oldest daughter started to attend Midland Valley High School.
“My daughter was already going through a hard time because she had gone to three different schools in the last three years,” she said.
Bursey said a problem then arose when she was moving into the Cumbee Center, which is a shelter in Aiken that is typically for victims of domestic violence, and she was worried about what she was going to do to keep her kids in school and give them some peace of mind.
“I was tears one day speaking with the Midland Valley guidance counselor, and she told me not to worry and gave me (Stroman’s) number,” Bursey said. ”(Stroman) called me the next day and told me not to worry about anything and she was going to make sure her kids got back and forth to school - and anything else they needed. It was truly a blessing for me.”
Bursey is now no longer homeless and has a permanent residence for her and her children.
Lisa Sims, of Aiken, has struggled with homelessness at different times in her life, but has done everything in her power to make sure her son, Joseph Morris, got an education and was given every opportunity to succeed.
“I’ve known (Stroman) basically my whole life,” Sims laughed. “Growing up, I ended up getting kicked out of my home at 18 with Joseph, who was just a baby, and I’d run into (Stroman) who would tell me to call her if I ever needed anything - and she meant it. She would get stuff from her house and bring it to me if I needed it.”
Sims said Stroman taught her a lot about how to live and be her own woman.
“She taught me to be proud of the accomplishments I would make and that helped me boost my confidence,” Sims said. “She’s always steered me in the right direction and made sure the kids had transportation. She always got my kids clothes, because I could never afford to get my kids clothes. If it wasn’t for her, we would’ve been lost a long time ago.”
Sims said Stroman made sure her kids never felt “different or left out” while they were in school.
Her son, Joseph is now 20 years old, married, with a full-time job. He said he knew Stroman since he was in diapers.
“Whenever school would start when I was young, (Stroman) would show up and make sure I always had everything I needed for school,” Morris said. “She would always make sure I had new clothes at the beginning of the school year and no one knew. I was just like everybody else.”
Morris said Stroman was like his counselor and mentor that helped him get to where he is today.
Sims has not been homeless for three years now.