Many families are preparing to spend time together in cozy homes this holiday season.
That's not the case for hundreds of students on the Space Coast, those whose families are without stable housing situations.
The number of students in transition has doubled since this time last year, going from about 750 families to about 1,300, said Ivette Collado, Brevard Public Schools' district homeless liaison.
The term "in transition" refers to students couch-surfing, living with friends or relatives, sleeping in hotels, camping in tents or living out of their cars.
There are many factors contributing to the rise in students without a stable home, Collado said.
"Most of the issues that I'm facing now with our families is that they have been getting evicted due to COVID and due to the housing costs going up," she said.
"I also have several families that are going through domestic violence, and they have left due to fear and wanting to protect their children, and so they're hiding in certain shelters and they don't have anything."
Most of the families — about 75% to 80% of them — live doubled-up with another family, sharing homes and beds, she said, whether that be because of economic hardship, domestic violence or because of a natural disaster like the two hurricanes that hit Brevard in September and November.
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As district homeless liaison, Collado's main goal is to make sure students are enrolled in school and attending, that transportation is accessible, breakfast and lunch are free, school supplies are provided and that the students are academically successful.
"When they are homeless, many times they could be living with a family member, an argument occurs, they get kicked out, so they're always moving many times from hotels or from homes from place to place," she said.
"They don't have a stable home environment, so school is that safe place for them."
Collado works in a variety of ways to help students. Once a month, she meets with shelters from around Brevard, the Brevard Homeless Coalition and other organizations to help connect students with resources.
On Dec. 3, she will speak at Brevard's Annual Festival of Wreaths held at Riverview Senior Resort in Palm Bay to help raise awareness of the rising numbers of students without stable housing.
Organized by friends Denise Argue, Kate Hagberg and Lisa Stanton, the festival is family-friendly and open to the public. There will be a Surfing Santa for selfies, a candy station, craft vendors, a hot cocoa bar and open bar for adults. Kids 12 and under enter for free, and there is a military discount. The festival runs from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Outside of fundraising, Collado also gets grant money from the government. However, that money doesn't cover everything.
"What my grant doesn't cover is like money for a bed, let's say," Collado said.
For many, something that simple can make a huge difference. One of the mothers Collado is working with in particular doesn't have beds for her children, with the three kids sleeping on air mattresses. Another mother had to leave her Section 8 housing because of a rodent infestation. Her family is split up between different places while she lives in her vehicle with her husband.
Getting those basic supplies is where donations come in.
"We put (donations) into an internal account here at the school board, and then I go and I purchase the items, and I take it to the families," Collado said.
She helps in supplying many of the student and families' basic needs and also purchases them gift cards to places like Walmart and Publix so they can do their own shopping.
The school system also collects donations of used clothing.
For those interested in donating clothing or finding other ways to help, call Collado at 321-633-1000, extension 11294.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Number of Brevard students without stable housing increases over 2021