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MORGAN COUNTY (Nov. 10, 2015) – Morgan County schools have one of the highest populations of homeless students in the state, according to a report by the Indiana Youth Institute.

The report also shows the number of homeless students in Morgan County schools has more than doubled in the last five years.

According to the report, there were 875 homeless students attending different school districts in Morgan County as of the 2013-2014 school year.  That is up from 385 during the 2008-2009 school year.  Only Marion County with 4,958 and Lake County with 1,064 had more homeless students, making Morgan County third in the state.

But when based on population, per 1,000 students, Morgan County ranked second in the state with 75 homeless students per 1,000.  Only Jennings County, with 84 per 1,000 ranked higher.

“We have a tremendous amount of families in this county that may not be right at the poverty level, but they’re very close to the levels,” said Diana Roy with the United Way of Central Indiana South.  “So they’re one or two paychecks away from losing their homes.”

Roy also said 18 percent of Morgan County children are in families living at or below poverty levels.  And 45 percent, nearly half, of Morgan County students qualify for free or reduced price lunch programs.

Roy says not enough families are making enough income to get by without assistance.  She also cited a high rate of drug abuse in the county.

“Morgan County is in the top 10 percent for prescription drug abuse and heroin addictions,” Roy said.

As the Indiana Youth Institute defines homelessness, the report does not mean 875 children are sleeping in cars or on the street, although there are a few of those cases.  Most of the students considered homeless are in households that are doubling up for financial reasons.

Mooresville Schools communications director Susan Haynes said the constant challenge is to keep low income students focused on their school work.

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure their academics don’t suffer due to other situations going on in their lives,” Haynes said.

That can be a tall order, according to Alice Cordes, with Churches In Mission.  Her organization works closely with schools to meet students’ physical needs like food, clothing and supplies.

Mooresville and Martinsville Schools work closely with shelters and food banks like Churches In Mission to make sure food and shelter-challenged students have their basic needs met.  But Cordes says much of the poverty in the county is generational, which means it is passed down from parents to children.

Getting young people to work through outside challenges to focus on their education is seen as the best way to break that cycle, even in the most challenging situations.

“When they’re concerned about are they going to be in the same place tonight, will there be electricity, will there be food to eat, then the school projects just lose importance,” Cordes said.