SUMNER COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN)- Sumner County School District has more than double the number of students who are experiencing homelessness at the start of this school year compared to last, according to district McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Coordinator Keica Ray.

Ray said at the start of the 2021-22 school year, about 75 students in the district didn’t have a permanent address or regular place to sleep.

“We are at 175 students already and we are five weeks in school,” Ray said. “I think it has to do with the economy at this point. You can’t afford housing. When you look at $1,000 for rent and they want the first month and last month’s rent, turning on utilities and the deposits for that, they can’t do it,” she explained.

What is more concerning to Ray is that typically that number only rises as the school year progresses. At the end of last year, there were 425 Sumner County students experiencing homelessness.

“The parent will lose a job, it may come from a divorce situation, it could come from domestic violence,” she said. “We have something we call unaccompanied youth. That’s when a parent is probably in jail or recently deceased or [the student] is estranged from their family,” Ray added.

According to the National Center for Homeless Education, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assitance Act makes sure that homeless youth have access to the same public education as other children. However, Ray said the program only gives her enough funding to help put a family in a hotel for up to three nights, and oftentimes families need longer than that to find a more permanent solution.

“It could mean they are in a shelter, it could mean they are in a hotel, it could mean they are going house to house, what we call couch surfing. They don’t have a permanent or fixed residence so they don’t know where they are going to sleep at night,” she said.

Ray says she has students who are sleeping in cars in Walmart or Chick-Fil-A parking lots to be close to Wi-Fi and a clean restroom.

To make sure they are doing all they can to help these kids and the other residents of Sumner County in need, a group of charitable organizations gathers in person or online about once a month to report on what they are doing and collaborate on future projects.

Daniel Stephens with Feed Sumner was set to give a speech to this coalition in August when he heard Ray talk about her students and said he was shocked the number was so high. He now says he is just a phone call away if Ray or any other organization in their group needs help from the food bank.

“We want to make sure no child in Sumner County goes unfed,” he said.

Pastor Derrick Jackson with First Baptist Church of Gallatin also helps run a non-profit associated with the church called Unlimited Potential, where they offer tutoring, computers, and other resources and activities to any student in the county who needs assistance.

“Just to see that moment in their eyes when like hey, ‘Maybe there is potential even in me,'” Jackson said.

However, this is also a statewide problem. In 2019, the Tennessee Department of Education reported that 19,747 children in the state were experiencing homelessness, which is almost a 2,000-child jump from the previous year.

But together, Jackson, Stephens and Ray are starting with making a change in their community. They believe that if they work as a family, they can help the families in their county have a better life.

If you are interested in helping the Sumner County Family Resource Center, they are always accepting toiletries, food, and gently-used clothes. The director says she is seeing an increased demand right now for men’s hoodies.

In addition, if you are interested in supporting children experiencing homelessness in Sumner financially, Ray says you can make a donation to Sumner County Schools and specifically indicate it is for homelessness.