NEWPORT NEWS — At the same time Newport News Public Schools is working on an after-school program for kids living in motels and hotels, the Newport News City Council passed an ordinance limiting the amount of time families can reside at the properties.
Nearly 200 Newport News Public Schools students are living in hotels with their families, a number that has increased in recent years, according to Jane Moreland, the division's dropout recovery coordinator.
Moreland has been working on a program that will bus kids who live in hotels from their schools to the South Morrision Family Education Center where Moreland works. The center would offer recreational activities, homework help and a snack, and then an activities bus would drop the kids off at the hotels where they reside.
Moreland said she hopes the program will help make up for the space and safe play areas most hotels lack.
"Will there ever be a day we could do something to better the lives of kids living in motels?" Moreland said she asked herself about two years ago when the idea for the program started.
She's not sure when it will be up and running, but she's hoping to do more planning over the summer.
Starting in January 2014, it will be illegal for people to stay in and owners to rent out hotel rooms for more than 30 days in a 60-day period, according to the ordinance passed by Newport News City Council March 12.
Many exceptions are written into the ordinance, including one for people who are staying at hotels for business purposes and extended-stay hotels. Moreland said she estimates about 80 percent of families live in regular hotels because extended-stays usually cost more.
Moreland said she thinks the ordinance could help her link families with services. Hotel owners aren't now required to give school officials information about children living at their properties, Moreland said. The ordinance changes that by listing school attendance officers as enforcers.
The ordinance gives human services workers authority to grant 90-day waivers to allow families they're working with more time to get into permanent housing.
A Newport News Department of Human Services/Social Services employee said that time would be sufficient for her department to help families, provided there is funding.
"We try to complete the process within 30 days, that is our goal," said Shardell Gerald, senior healthy families and prevention services supervisor.
To receive housing help from the department, applicants must fill out financial documents, submit copies of unpaid bills, and then by approved by a committee, which meets once a week. If approved, a specialist meets with the family to create a housing plan and assists them with finding a home that suits their needs.
The type of financial assistance, such as help with rent or utilities, varies, Gerald said.
"Every case is individualized," she said.
Gerald said she thinks between the department and help from other organizations, the ordinance won't put people out on the streets.
"That's not a concern for us at this time," she said.
But Patricia Popp, state coordinator for the education of homeless children and youth through Project HOPE-Virginia, said she is concerned that some families might fall between the cracks.
"It's definitely something for us to keep an eye on," she said.
Reporter Joe Lawlor contributed.