Homelessness in the Upper Cumberland - Resources for Families in Need

Last Updated by Kate Spears on

Did you know that (according to one study) every year 600,000 families with 1.35 million children experience homelessness in the United States? The same research found that children make up about 50 percent of the homeless population in the U.S. This might be hard to believe, but even in the Upper Cumberland, homelessness affects students in our school systems.

A primary cause of homelessness is the inaccessibility to affordable housing. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 15.8 million households pay over 50% of their income toward housing, or are severely cost-burdened by their rent or mortgage. Further, 5.2 million households are considered by HUD to be living in the worst case housing conditions, meaning they spend 50% of their income on rent and earn only 50 percent of the area median income or live in severely substandard housing.

We’ve shared before that to many, this seems like an issue that is unique to big, overcrowded cities, or booming metropolitan areas, but that isn’t the case. This issue affects families right here in our area. While the problem of homelessness can seem daunting, there are resources available in the Upper Cumberland to improve things for families and individuals.

Children and Homelessness

On any given night, 1.2 million children in the U.S. are homeless. They live with or without their families, in shelters, cars, and abandoned buildings. Families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, accounting for almost 50% of the nation’s homeless. Lack of affordable housing is a primary cause of homelessness in families. Often, one or both parents are working but not making a livable wage. Additionally, events such as illness, unemployment, accidents, and domestic violence limit the ability to secure stable housing and affordable housing.

This is a topic very near to our hearts here at WCTE, as part of our mission includes to engage our citizens and give a voice to the people and places we serve. This week on the Get Ready To Learn radio show, host Cindy Putman welcomes Jackie Reynolds, Family Engagement Coordinator Putnam County School System (PCSS), and Beverly Dronebarger, Family Services Resource Center Coordinator for PCSS.

The Family Services Resource Center is a new venture by the Putnam County School System, offering assistance and resources for families who are facing homelessness. Open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the FSRC is a one-stop shop for families in need.

Offering everything from food, clothing, and medical services (a PCSS head nurse is on staff), the center strives to be a place for families to turn when they have exhausted their other resources.

The center also has a kitchen where cooking classes are offered in which families can learn to create healthy, affordable meals as well as use coupons to stretch their food budgets.

To learn more, call the Putnam County Family Services Resources Center at (931) 525-4707.

Homelessness is a serious problem in the Putnam County School System. Using the Federal Guidelines that were developed in the McKinney--Vento Homeless Assistance Act, system leaders have defined what that means and looks like here in the Upper Cumberland. This is where the Family Services Resources Center can come into play.

For example, one student in the school system got sick at school. This is a common occurrence, and for most families, nothing to get too distressed over. However this particular student’s family was living in their car.

For children and adults, a comfortable bed at home is just the prescription for much of what ails you. But when home is a car where the rest of the family is residing, even the common cold can cause major stress on a family. This is where the Resource Center can come in and help those families in need.

Working closely with the Putnam County School System, we know that Mr Boyd and other leaders are committed to addressing the whole child. That is, not just their academic needs, but also their social, emotional, physical, and mental well-being.

In many ways, this mirrors how PBS seeks to serve its viewers. With programs that inform, educate, and inspire, PBS (and member stations like WCTE) set out to make resources available so that families can improve their quality of life.

We know that life stress like homelessness, poverty, lack of adequate food and nutrition can greatly impact a child’s development. Is there a child in your life you worry might not be developing at a healthy rate?

Check out this great free tool from PBS Parents - Child Development Tracker

If all of this moves you to want to do something, that’s good! Wonder how you can help?

Educate Yourself

There’s nothing like information and education to empower members of a community.

Make plans to attend our Bridges Out of Poverty workshop, November 16th, made possible through our partnership with Habitat for Humanity and the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. This interactive workshop which will help members of the community better understand the limitations of living in poverty and how we as a community can enable change.

This workshop is based on Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities by Ruby Payne, Phil DeVol, and Terie Dreussi-Smith. The workshop offers many insights into the mindsets of people in poverty and the hidden rules by which they live. Click here to register.

Beverly and Jackie are certified poverty trainers for the Ruby Payne program and they also do a poverty simulation that allows you to spend the day as a person living in poverty.

The next such event is happening November 18th at Collegeside Church of Christ. Click here to sign up for this FREE event.

Give A Little Help

Another way you can help those in need in our community is to make a donation to the Family Services Resource Center. The center accepts donations of gift cards, new pillows with clean pillow cases, or blankets for kids who are sick and homeless. Other items on the center’s wish list include personal hygiene products, school supplies, backpacks, pre-packaged food (i.e. cans of soup, ramen noodles, non-perishables).

Buy a Thanksgiving Dinner, Give a Thanksgiving Dinner

Want to help a family enjoy a tasty Thanksgiving dinner this year? When you participate in the Buy One, Give One program through Cookeville’s MealFit, you can buy a turkey and know that a Thanksgiving dinner will be provided to a family in need. Visit https://mealfit.co/ to learn more.

Support A Local Faith Based Organization

60.3% of children in Putnam County Schools receive free or reduced lunch. Plus, many students don’t have access to enough food at home. During holidays and long weekends, this can present a challenge for families. That’s where our local Faith-based community has rallied to provide food for kids in the gap days - holidays, long weekends, etc. Kids can eat breakfast, lunch, and a super snack at school, but they don't have this option when school is not in session. Many churches in our area have backpack programs, pack food boxes, or offer resources to families in need.

Looking for an opportunity to give back this time of year? These are some great ways to do so, while teaching your children about giving at the same time.

This brings us to a new exciting development from PBS - the PBS KIDS 24/7 channel. We know kids in poverty watch more TV at night and on weekends and there is not much if any high quality children’s programming on at this time. We want to make sure that if kids are watching TV, it's something educational, inspirational, to help them be a happier, healthier person.

Did you know that research says 74% parents feel their children's behavior is better when they watch PBS programming as opposed to other programming? Shows like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Arthur address social and emotional issues with kids.


Tune in each Saturday morning at 9:30 for the WCTE Get Ready To Learn Radio Show, with host Cindy Putman on Zimmer Broadcasting's The HUB 107.7 FM and 1400 AM. 


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WCTE’s Educational Team can customize workshops or professional development trainings for your group or organization. For workshop information, or to inquire about scheduling a workshop, call 921-528-2222 x. 227 or email us.

Topics are listed below:

  • Using Media as a learning tool
  • Using PBS kids apps to extend learning
  • How to be your child’s first teacher
  • Sesame Street Workshops
  • How does poverty effect a child’s brain
  • Literacy and Math
  • Brain Development

Workshops can be conducted in English and Spanish.