Homeless runs rampant in wake of economic hard times

CHRIS GERBASI | Staff Writer

They may be living in motels or cars, or at campgrounds or grandma’s house.
School-age children can fit the definition of “homeless” in a variety of ways, and the Lake County School District is providing services to a significant number of them: about 2,500 students on any given day.
The majority of those students have roofs over their heads, but are sharing other people’s homes.
“They’re living with somebody else because they no longer have a home of their own, or they can’t find a home of their own because of financial hardship,” said Kristin McCall, district liaison for the homeless.
The district figure typically hovers around 2,400 to 2,600, or about 6 percent of the 41,000 student population.
A three-year state grant that supports the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act has helped the district, including a team of 12 social workers, facilitate services for homeless students. The district has received $320,000 the past three years, said Jan Tobias, director of student services.
McCall said the McKinney-Vento Act has a broad definition for homeless. Still, by any terms, 2,500 is a large number.
“If you look at the foreclosure numbers in Lake County, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched,” McCall said.
McCall said some students are living in cars and perhaps tents, but those numbers are difficult to determine.
“Some are in RV parks, quite a few are in motels,” she said. “I’ve heard that in the south end of the county, there may be some in tents, but parents are not wanting that to be known.
“We have 12 social workers, and if we find out a student is living in a car, we do the best we can to get them out. A motel is better than a car,” McCall said.
The school district also arranges for transportation, by bus or from a teacher or friend, so homeless students can continue to attend the same school if they have been displaced.
“If you move them during the school year, that can be detrimental to their learning,” McCall said.
Marion County Schools is experiencing similar problems with students living in RVs and campers in the Ocala National Forest. That district has gone as far as to set up bus stops in the forest in an effort to keep kids in school, where they may be getting their only hot meals, said Capt. Gail Lazenby of The Villages Fire Department. Lazenby is involved in the Backpack Program, which provides personal hygiene items to those students.
New Beginnings, a faith-based not-for-profit group in South Lake County, also helps homeless families with programs such as transitional housing, food, clothing, professional counseling, life and job skills training, and job placement assistance. Executive director Steve Smith says residential programs currently serve 17 students, and an outreach program provides meals to about 30 more children on Saturdays.
Smith says the number of homeless students in the district continues to rise. He was told that of about 45 new students entering Lake Minneola High School in January, about half were defined as homeless.
“I’m in the industry and I’m still shocked at the numbers I’ve heard. The numbers I’m seeing are staggering,” Smith said. “People keep thinking that nationally things are getting better, but I’m not sure that applies in Lake County.”
Lake School District policy defines homeless children as individuals who lack a fixed and adequate nighttime residence, including those who are sharing housing of other people, or living in places such as motels, trailer parks, campgrounds, shelters, parks, cars or any number of places not ordinarily used for sleeping accommodations.
Across the state, nearly 57,000 students were defined as homeless for 2010-2011, about a 16 percent increase over the previous year, according to the state Department of Education. About 70 percent of those students were sharing housing as a result of losing their housing or economic hardship.
In the 2010-2011 count by school district, Lake had 2,992 homeless students; Orange, 3,887; Volusia, 2,016; Osceola, 1,923; Marion, 1,911; and Seminole, 1,697. In 2007-2008, Lake County Schools identified 606 children as homeless.
Increased reporting and more accurate counts, as well as economic hardship, have contributed to the rise, said Chris Patton, district communications officer.
“There’s a lot of economic upheaval in the county, and that’s probably attributed to additional students in that category,” Patton said. “Mostly, it’s the way we’ve accounted for them under the homeless definition. They’re not living on the streets, they’re just not living in a house, or they may be living with grandparents, families, friends.”
The counts include any student categorized as homeless who attended school for even a day throughout the year.
“A lot of people come to Lake County and think they’ll get a job,” McCall said. “They get here, and the jobs are not here and they’re not staying.”
Tobias said the district plans to bid during the next round of competitive grants for state aid. Last year’s grant funding to the district was increased because of the rising number of homeless students.
“Our numbers continue to be relatively high as districts go, and we want to continue to support those services until things turn around,” Tobias said.
McCall said efforts like arranging transportation at least helps maintain some normalcy for students “while parents work it out.”
“It assists them, the kids are happy, and it’s best for their education,” she said.

2econd Life Resale Supports Lake Counties Students

It’s not only the holidays that are tough these days for families and students here in Lake County. For many, simple household supplies and furnishings are tough enough to afford when it takes everything they have just to provide a warm meal. That’s why we are so blessed to be able to assist these families through our store, 2econd Life Resale. Manager, Carla Terrell, has been working with Lake County School’s Parent Resource Center and the Migrant Education Program of Lake County Schools(MEP) by offering assistance through the store. This past Christmas, one young boy in the MEP’s wish was for a twin mattress. Through 2econd Life Resale his wish was granted by donation along with other household items for the family!

Throughout the year 2econd Life has donated items to LCSS where a designated room in local schools are set up and kids can come in and shop for free! They are able to pick-up clothing, uniforms, toiletries, etc. Recently, a letter was received by the store and it reads:

Dear Ms. Terrell,

On behalf of the Parent Resource Center and the Migrant Education Program of Lake County Schools, we would like to thank you for your recent donations to our families. Your prompt response to assist our Title I staff in meeting this need is to be admired. Many of our families have minimal resources and are unable to provide for their children during the holidays. It is through individuals and organizations like yours that we are able to assist and ensure our students succeed.

We appreciate your generosity and the ongoing efforts to help South Lake County Schools. Once again, thank you for your willingness to help our families.


Family School Liaison
Parent Resource Center

Through your generous donations to our store, we are able to continue helping these children and their families here in our area. If you would like to learn more about donations and volunteering, please contact us!

New Beginnings Office

2econd Life Resale

Community Unites to Make Christmas for Local Children

New Beginnings of Lake County in combined support with local businesses and individuals united this year to make Christmas joyous for many local families.  Throughout the month of December a number of toys, food and other items were donated to the organization ultimately serving hundreds of families in need this holiday season.  Many dedicated volunteers joined New Beginnings at their weekly outreach program on Christmas Eve to help distribute the donations to children and families in the area. With the economy still struggling, there were more families seeking added support this holiday season.


New Beginnings is proud to offer it’s thanks to many generous contributors including: Chick fil A, Great Clips Clermont, Koinonia Church, Hilton Grand Vacations, WOAMTEC, Emerald Lakes, First United Methodist Church, Church at South Lake, Mosaic Church, Family Christian Center, Holy Land Experience, Toys For Tots, Family Matters, Lisa Sawyer & Family, Dr. Brockman, Dr. Paez, Susan Firkel, Cathy Holeman & Family and many others.


Since its inception in 2007, New Beginnings offers programs that provide food, clothing and transitional housing, along with job and life skill training.  Recently, New Beginnings began a Mentor Program to help families who have been deemed “at risk” of homelessness.  This new program will prepare volunteers to mentor families and help provide them with resources and encouragement.  For more information, please contact New Beginnings at (352) 404-6946 or visit their website at www.NewBeginningsLake.org.

Lake Sentinel Article

Clermont group that helps homeless sees rising demand on food ministry
By Rosemarie Dowell, CORRESPONDENT
June 2, 2011

CLERMONT — A faith-based organization for the homeless is scrambling to meet the increasing demands on its food ministry, brought about by high unemployment and rising food costs.
New Beginnings in Clermont began the outreach a year ago, distributing hot meals, food and clothing to about 20 needy families every weekend. Now, though, the number of families seeking help has grown to 60 each week.
“We felt that with the bad economy people needed a helping hand,” said Sandy Williams, director of community outreach for the organization, founded in 2007. “We wanted to reach out to them.”
In all, more than 1,000 pounds of food is given out each week, which strains the group’s resources and depletes its food bank.

‘Grateful’ for help
A slew of churches, spanning several denominations, financially supports and assists the food ministry, including Real Life Christian Church, the Church at South Lake, The Crossings Church, GateWay Church, Celebration of Praise and First Baptist Church of Clermont, she said.
Still others, like Clermont Seventh Day Adventist Church and Legacy Church, send volunteers. The group also buys through Second Harvest Food Bank to save money, which helps stretch their budget, Williams said.
“We’re very grateful for everyone’s help, but we never have enough food or money these days,” she said. “We are gaining 15 to 20 new families each week and it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with the demand.”

Demand for services
The group distributes the food and clothing from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the Winn-Dixie parking lot on State Road 50. Some families come every week, while others come just a few times.
Williams blames Lake’s double-digit jobless rate as well as underemployment for the surging demand for services. The rising cost of food has hurt many families as well, she added.
“So many people in Lake County are out of work,” she said. “And many people are underemployed, working jobs that pay far less than what their previous jobs did.”
But the ministry’s goal is more than just handing out food. It’s to give hope as well, Williams explained.

Armed with resourcesArmed with lists of information on social-service organizations and employers, New Beginnings shares the resources with the families.
“We don’t just feed them a hot meal and hand them a bag of food. We try to connect them with resources or jobs that will help them,” she said. “That’s all that most people need — just some help to get them back on track.”
Interested in donating? Food donations can be made at the New Beginnings 2econd Life Resale store on U.S. Highway 27 in Minneola. Monetary donations can be dropped off or mailed to the group’s office at 200 E. Washington St., Clermont.

Florida Coalition for the Homeless video

Florida Governor Rick Scott has proposed devastating cuts to homeless programs for the State of Florida. The Department of Children & Families has also proposed to eliminate all homeless funding. Will we balance the budget on the backs of homeless families and children? Call Gov. Rick Scott, Senator Negron and Representative Hudson and tell them to NO. Florida Homeless children and families deserve better!

Hard times generation: homeless kids


1) Pray
2) Offer to adopt a homeless child in your community and provide a bag of groceries weekly and love/mentor a child
3) Open your wallet and offer to pay 1 month of a motel room ( many places are giving huge discounts during the slow months )
4) Write/call your State Senator and House Representative; the Governors proposed budget asks to eliminate all homeless funding!
5) Post video and these 4 requests on your FB.

In the Media

‘New Beginnings’ in the Media

May, 2010 – Joining the Family
New Beginnings’ new Women and Children’s Home gives Women and Children a Feeling of “Home”

August 25, 2009 – New center aims to help homeless find jobs,
By Lori Carter, Special To The Sentinel

MINNEOLA – A job-training center has opened to assist the homeless find jobs.

August 2, 2009 – Historic inn offers new beginning for homeless women,
By Martin E. Comas, Sentinel Staff Writer

CLERMONT New Beginnings, a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless, has purchased the historic Mulberry Inn, an 1890s Victorian house in downtown Clermont.

July 31, 2009 – Homeless man finds his own New Beginnings, by ROXANNE BROWN

CLERMONT — Nine months ago, Bill Pope was living on the streets of Orlando, homeless, jobless and as an alcoholic. Wanting to change, Pope found his way into a church and was referred to the New Beginnings organization. Representatives from the group came to pick him up.

Click here to read the article

Thursday, July 30, 2009 12:08:53 AM – Mulberry Home Gives New Beginnings To Single Moms, Children, reported By Heather Sorentrue

Click here to read the article on Channel 13.

Click here to watch the video.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 11:05:22 PM – Group Offering ‘New Beginnings’ Sees Spike In Calls

Channel 13 news has taken notice and interviewed Steve Smith about the changing faces of homelessness and what his vision is to help.

Click here to read the article on Channel 13.

Click here to watch the video.