Hillsborough County students spend the night outside to understand homelessness

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Hillsborough County is finding a unique approach to help students understand the dire circumstances some of their classmates may be facing.

Dozens of Tampa Catholic High School students spend the night outside on a concrete basketball court to get a glimpse of what it could be like without the comforts of home.

“A lack of stability at the most basic level is incredibly tragic for mental, emotional and physical health,” said Jina Masters, a teacher at Tampa Catholic High School. “There is no part of your humanity that is not compromised when your most basic needs are not met.”

According to Hillsborough County Children’s Services, 4,265 Hillsborough County Public Schools students are experiencing homelessness, and about 300 of them are living in cars or public spaces.

“I was homeless at 18 and pregnant with my first daughter at the time,” said Zamaya Clark of the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative.

Clark is passionate about volunteering and shares her challenging journey over the past five years when she had to live in a motel with seven relatives.

“The motel was $450 for every week we had to pay,” Clark said. “It was full of cockroaches, it was very dirty, there were holes in the walls. Many families still remain there.”

The increasing homeless rate is linked to affordable housing. However, two months ago, the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners voted to cut $8 million from the $10 million annual affordable housing support fund.

Some commissioners are confident the $2 million difference can still meet growing demand.

“Everyone is upset, but they could have gotten away with nothing,” said Commissioner Gwen Myers. “I would say if you get $2 million for affordable housing this year, we can still get the job done.”

Several agencies are available to offer resources to families experiencing homelessness, including the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless InitiativeTampa Housing Authority and Bay Area Legal Services.

Luke Plunkett

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