NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Thousands of children across Middle Tennessee don’t have a permanent home right now. Homelessness is a growing problem.

News 2’s Neil Orne visited with a program serving kids facing very difficult situations.

“Housing instability in our community has drastically blossomed in the last couple of years,” said Catherine Knowles. “I’ve done this work for 25 years, and when I first started we served 400 students.”

Knowles, who works with families in Metro Nashville Public Schools, said it’s difficult to count just how many kids are homeless or on the verge, but she believes it’s in the thousands.

“Parents are really reluctant to share their situations with school staff or faith communities that they might be working with because there is a real fear that they as a parent, you know, could lose custody of their child, because they cant provide housing,” said Knowles.

Judging from the operation at Nashville’s Homeless Education Resource Office, or H.E.R.O., homelessness is significant and growing. H.E.R.O. has filled a new space at the old Buena Vista Elementary.

“From the space where we are today, we have a former library that was converted into a clothing center, we have everything from standard school attire to hoodies, socks, underwear, brand new shoes donated from Soles for Souls,” she said.

The program is funded through Federal and state grants and relies heavily on support from generous donors like Martha Sawyer.

Sawyer has been donating supplies to kids for 21 years, but she just learned about H.E.R.O.

“This is the first year for the H.E.R.O. program, and it is absolutely wonderful,” Sawyer said. “I’m hoping this is what we do for now on.”

The program serves kids discretely and completely either in or out of school.

“It’s important for us to be as mobile as we can so we can take the resources that we have collected all in one spot and then get them out to families where they are,” said Knowles.

She often meets up with former student she assisted who are now struggling with families of their own. With Nashville housing costs through the roof, there’s no end in sight.

“I think, through no fault of their own and through no fault of their parents, its the economic conditions. Our community has to have affordable housing. In this landscape you know people really do find they are without an affordable place to live,” she said.

For H.E.R.O., the focus remains on serving kids, giving them a chance to compete in the classroom on the same level as their peers.

| READ MORE | Latest headlines from Nashville and Davidson County

“I would describe it as a gift from God. This resource is really great because, like I said, they offer so many things, food, backpacks everything a child needs to be successful at school.”

As for solutions to homelessness, the team at H.E.R.O. plans to keep doing their part of trying to break the cycle.

“I don’t think people are aware of it. They are not aware that there is a H.E.R.O. program.”

Here’s three ways you can help the H.E.R.O. program:

  • Collect supplies like clothing, food, hygiene items, gas/grocery gift cards
  • Donate “outgrown, not worn out” school attire with UniCycle
  • Volunteer at H.E.R.O. Support Hub

To learn more about getting involved click this link.

News 2 investigates why the number of children classified as homeless is rising in our area and what’s being done to help them in our special reports – “Homeless Children”.