West Virginia Kids Count Executive Director sheds light on youth homelessness throughout the state

CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – “There are so many factors that come into play here.”

Factors that, according to results obtained from West Virginia Kids Count and the West Virginia Department of Education, among others, have resulted in child homelessness within the state of West Virginia increasing in recent years.

“Everything from poverty in the economy, to the opioid epidemic,” said West Virginia Kids County Executive Director Tricia Kingery. “Grandparents raising grandchildren. Foster care. And then, add COVID-19, a pandemic, into that.”

According to the Department of Education, there were 10, 417 youths experiencing homelessness during the last school year, a 14% increase within the last half decade.

“If you look back, dating back to the school year of 2014-2015, there were only, and I don’t want to say only, 8,959 students,” Kingery said.

Southern West Virginia is not immune to child homelessness. The following numbers represent the number of homeless youths in Southern West Virginia counties as of last school year. Mercer: 588. Raleigh: 372. Fayette: 180. Greenbrier: 177.

“These numbers are real,” Kingery said. “These are children. Every one of those numbers represents a child and family in need of our services and support.”

It’s the responsibility of entire communities, especially people who work directly with children, to pay attention and bring awareness to an issue that needs to grow smaller, not bigger.

“Keep our eyes wide open,” Kingery said. “You can see where they’re struggling and you have to ask the right questions.

“You have to build that relationship, that trust, so that the children will be honest with you about what’s happening.”