A book donation at Rusk Middle School kicked off homeless youth awareness month at Dallas ISD.

Last year, DISD counted 4,400 homeless students, which the district’s Homeless Education Program manager Ashley Marshall says is the most she’s seen in six years on the job.

The program provides resources for students experiencing housing insecurity, even helping them identify that they’re experiencing it.

The program’s website asks students if they are, “Doubled up (living with a family member/friends due to economic hardship/other circumstances)? Living in Hotel/Motel? Living in Shelter/Transitional housing? Living Unsheltered (parks, cars, public spaces, etc.)?”

About 75% of DISD students “coded as homeless” are living doubled up with another family, Marshall says.

“I think it’s probably more. Some people look at that situation as a cultural thing rather than homelessness,” she told DISD’s The Hub.I’ve talked to a lot of adults who’ve said, ‘well, that means I was homeless when I was younger, because we had to go live with my grandparents.’ Yes, you were, but you just didn’t think about it that way.”

The department also helps students with transportation, uniforms, hygiene and school supplies, and makes referrals to resources for food, housing, counseling and medical services.

Marshall says part of their mission is training campuses to identify students experiencing homelessness and connect them with resources.

The district is asking students and faculty to wear purple on Fridays in November for homeless youth awareness and that it’s OK to ask for help.

An anonymous donor gave books about homelessness to students at Rusk last week, and librarians will be holding discussions about them all month.