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Orange Park Councilwoman Takes On Homelessness

Tackling The Problem of Homeless Kids in Orange Park

photo of Connie ThomasConnie Thomas is new to the Orange Park Town Council, but she is already tackling one of the most difficult issues any city can face: homelessness. She has taken the concerns she heard from local residents about a woman who needed help, and launched a community-wide effort to tackle the issue of homeless children. “The more I learned about this young woman,” she said, “the more I thought we needed more people around the table. This certainly can’t be the only one in our community.” So she began to gather stakeholders and invited them to a round table meeting, including the chief of police, the town manager and town clerk, a local pastor and a few concerned residents. “The first round table conversation expanded into the whole range of homelessness,” Thomas said. “We had to narrow it to the confines of the town.” Understanding the scope of the problem means knowing how many homeless people are in the community. The second round table discussion was expanded to include area principals, school board members, school social workers and even the sheriff’s wife, she said. During that meeting, they narrowed their focus down to the one population that is not being counted: unaccompanied youth.  These are children who don’t want to be connected with agencies like the Department of Children and Families, she explained. They are kids who are sleeping in cars or on friends’ couches so that they can stay in their own school. “It appears it may be a missing link,” Thomas said. The discussion will continue in the coming months, with more people being added to the round table. Clay County Commissioner Diane Hutchins, Kids First of Florida and others will be joining the meetings to work on the issue. “We’re focused on awareness, on bringing people together,” Thomas said. “Success will be that children are getting help. I’ve been impressed with the concern and the people who want to be involved….nothing but good can come of that!”

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