COLUMBIA, S.C. — Living in a car, couch hopping, and sleeping at hotels.
Homeless No More CEO Lila Anna Sauls said these situations are a reality for many children in the midlands. She calls them the invisible population.
"When the community talks about homelessness, it's primarily men and women. It's the population that you see," said Sauls. "You don’t see homeless families. "
Homeless No More is currently serving 20 children in its summer and after-school programs.
According to state data, 11,736 students during the 2019-202 school year were homeless. 6,316 students were in 5th grade or below.
"When a child loses the stable housing, not only do they lose the education stabilities, but they also lose their friends," said Sauls.
Sauls said this issue is preventable, too.
"If we were to invest in affordable housing, at a price point these families who are working can afford and maintain, you wouldn’t have homeless children," Sauls said.
Lowcountry Orphan Relief CEO Lynn Young explained many children are facing another reality of neglect, abuse, and abandonment.
"There were so many children were coming to school with dirty underwear or no underwear, no socks," said Young.
According to data on its website, in 2020 the Department of Social Services investigated 413 cases of physical child neglect in Richland County and 9 cases of abandonment.
Those numbers are why Lynn opened a distribution center in Columbia. So far, they have served more than 400 children in the last year.
"I didn't realize that Columbia, my old hometown, had so much abuse of children, so much abandonment, so much neglect," said Young.
The organization puts together care kits for children. Each kit is filled with clothing, toiletries, a book, and a stuffed animal.
"We are known for a big stuffed animal. And I've seen that stuffed animal make a big difference in a child's life," said Young.
The organization has also placed "just in case" closets in three Midlands school districts. The closets are meant to be used "just in case" a child needs clothes, toiletries, or shoes.
"You've got to address their child's basic needs before you do anything else," said Young.
Midlands Orphan Relief is taking donations and volunteers to pack care kits.