AKRON, Ohio — Over the past four years, Samantha Braham and her two children have experienced homelessness twice.
Braham, 30, moved from Youngstown to Akron in 2015 to escape a "drug world" she fell into. Two years later, she found herself in an emotionally abusive relationship and stayed at Hope and Healing Survivor Resource Center for seven months with her kids.
The single mom got sober and moved her family into an Akron Apartment in 2019, but then struggled to afford her rent.
"I didn't let it get to the point of eviction, but it was getting there," Braham said. "Being a single mom out here is really hard. It's very, very hard."
Braham and her kids then moved in with a family friend, so once again, they did not have a place of their own.
Her story-- and hundreds more like them in Akron-- tug at the heartstrings of Project RISE, a program in the Akron Public School District that focuses on helping students experiencing homelessness.
"We all struggle with wanting to do more because every time you hear one of these stories, you want to cry. You want to do more," Samantha Breece, the special programs coordinator.
Each year, about 2,000 APS students from 800 families experience some form of homelessness. That accounts for roughly 10% of the student body.
Project RISE manager and homeless liaison for the district, Shannah Carino, said that doesn't mean the kids are living on the streets.
"They can be doubled up in living with other family or friends or they could be in shelters or they could in hotel rooms," Carino said.
Carino worries the numbers of homeless students will jump when a moratorium on evictions, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, expires at the end of June.
"We are kind of gearing up to possibly even have an influx of families who are experiencing homelessness," Carino said.
The main goal of Project RISE is to remove barriers to education for kids facing housing instability.
The program, which has help from several community partners, works to empower students and families to improve the quality of their lives.
Education and enrichment programs include after-school tutoring in nine local shelter sites, Love and Learn Doll Project, Parents RISE-ing programs, and summer field trips.
Project RISE also provides school supplies and gift cards. Thanks to grant donations, 90 beds were donated to families in need in 2020.
Braham has counted on the program for several years and said the assistance has changed her life.
"They're going to literally do anything they can to make it easier on you and to make your kids happy," she said. "Project RISE is literally a family."
While Project RISE is not a housing agency, it does provide resources to families looking for ways to find a home.
"We have to be well-versed in helping our families get connected," Carino said. "I really think it is more important now than ever because I think a lot of our families throughout the pandemic, in general, have felt somewhat alone."
As for Braham, she found a home to rent last November and she, along with her 8-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, is doing well.
She's quick to offer advice to others facing the fear of homelessness.
"People need to reach out. If you need help, reach out."
Project Rise has also Partnered with Purposity, an app that connects non-profits with community donors. The app allows people to donate items, such as diapers, school supplies, and clothing to families.
"Families of all socio-economic backgrounds are struggling during this time and the weight of the crisis falls extra heavily on families living in poverty and without stable housing. Many Project RISE families are experiencing job loss, eviction, food instability, and lack of resources," Breece said.
Those who want more information on Project RISE should call 330-761-2969.