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The first day of school is less than two weeks away for students in Loudoun County, and for the hundreds of homeless students, the free food and transportation that go along with the school year could be a relief. Now, a community health program is aiming to meet other needs of homeless children in the county, both those in school and those who aren't.
More than 650 children currently enrolled in the Loudoun County school system were either homeless or on the verge of homelessness at the beginning of the summer, according to Donna Fortier, director of Mobile Health Services for Inova Loudoun Hospital.
She says she was shocked when she saw the number. Even more surprising, she says, was the number not getting an education at all.
"Between 500 and 700 children in Loudoun County are believed to be not enrolled in school and precariously housed," she says.
Fortier got the go-ahead from her bosses to start using the hospital's 44-foot mobile health clinic for "Mobile Hope," a program that makes regular visits to communities with homeless children.
"We take non-perishable food, clothing and hygiene items out to the children, where we can find them," Fortier says.
Inova hasn't started publicizing the program yet, and the bus has only made a couple of stops this summer. Mobile health nurses have only seen 20 children, all of whom were accompanied by parents -- which is good.
But Fortier says nearly 40 percent of the homeless or precariously housed children in Loudoun don't have a parent or legal guardian, and that's a population she'd like to reach.
"There are no programs right now in Loudoun County that are specifically geared towards those children aged 18 and younger, particularly those that have no parent or guardian in their life," she says.
Loudoun County resident Irv Chilcoat drives the mobile health center, which is called Mobile Hope. He says coming to grips with homelessness could be a challenge for the community, but the problem is real.
"There's a lot of people that have a lot of pride," he says. "But there's a lot of people that need, and they'll show up."
Mobile Hope's next stop will be in Leesburg on Wednesday. Fortier is planning to offer free haircuts on the bus to help children get ready for the beginning of school.