HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Hillsborough County is finding a unique approach to help students understand the dire circumstances some of their classmates may face.
Dozens of students from Tampa Catholic High School are spending the night outside on a concrete basketball court to catch a small glimpse of what it may be like without the comforts of home.
“A lack of stability at the most foundational level is incredibly tragic for mental health, emotional health, and physical health,” said Jina Masters, a teacher at Tampa Catholic High School. “There’s not a part of your humanity that isn’t affected when you don’t have the most basic needs met.”
According to the Hillsborough County Children’s Services, 4,265 students in Hillsborough County Public Schools experience homelessness, and about 300 of them live in cars or public spaces.
“I was homeless at 18 and I was pregnant with my first daughter at the time,” said Zamaya Clark with the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative.
Clark is passionate about volunteering and sharing her challenging journey over the last five years when she had to live with seven relatives in a motel.
“The motel was $450 for every week that we had to pay,” Clark said. “It was roach-infested, it was very dirty, there were holes in the walls. A lot of families are staying there still.”
The rising rate of homelessness is linked to affordable housing. However, two months ago, the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners voted to trim $8 million from the $10 million annual fund that supported affordable housing.
Some commissioners are confident the $2 million difference can still cover the growing demand.
“Everybody is upset, but they could have walked away with zero,” Commissioner Gwen Myers said. “I would say if you’re receiving $2 million this year for affordable housing, we can still get work done.”
Several agencies are available to offer resources to families who are experiencing homelessness, including the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative, Tampa Housing Authority and Bay Area Legal Services.