MILTON — Santa Rosa County does not have a dedicated long-term homeless shelter in the county.

That means there is not a place for a homeless family to stay for an extended period. The county does open a cold weather shelter during the winter months if the temperature drops below 40 degrees and stays open as long as the weather mandates.

"There is a real need for a shelter in Santa Rosa County," said Dr. Karen Barber Director of the Santa Rosa District Schools Office of Federal Programs. By her current estimates there are 1066 homeless children attending public schools in the county. "That count is just for the school age children," Barber said. "They don't count the extended families that come with those school aged children."

Extended shelters can offer families a place to settle for a short period and kind of catch their breath to figure out what their next step will be said Barber. Dr. Barber went on to say that, they try to keep homeless kids at the same schools in order to build some continuity in their lives.

Dr. Barber quickly pointed out that this is not to say that there is no one to help the homeless in Pace or Milton. There are plenty of individual non-profit and faith-based organizations ready to help. The issue is that they are spread out throughout the county.

The best "clearinghouse" type website I found for getting information on schools, homelessness, poverty, where to get help, definitions and terms, free lunches, poverty rates of our county compared the rest of the United States is https://srcsdfederalprograms.weebly.com/. Under the heading of Title IX/ Homeless Education, select Santa Rosa Homeless, then Resources. There you will find listing for organizations to help the homeless get back on track and they list organizations in both Santa Rosa and Escambia Counties that can provide help.

As of March 29, 2019, the county has identified 1,066 homeless students in our schools, of those 86 have been identified as unaccompanied youth. Meaning they are not in physical custody of a parent or guardian.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvement Act of 2001 Title IX, Part C, was enacted to protect the rights of homeless children and youth to receive a free and appropriate public education regardless if they are alone or with a parent or guardian.

For more information on the fundamental rights of education for homeless students, go to https://srcsdfederalprograms.weebly.com/title-ixhomeless-education.html.