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One family’s story of success amid a growing population of homeless students

PIERCE COUNTY --  Cheryl Hernandez didn't have the will for a long time, her on-and-off drug addiction for years sidetracked not just her life but her two sons.

“When you have nothing, you are hopeless,” Hernandez said Friday.

For more than a year Cheryl's family was homeless.

“It definitely feels isolating,” Cheryl’s son said.

The 17-year-old boy still went to school, catching the bus at 5:30 every morning.

“Nobody who I didn’t tell knew I was homeless at all,” Cheryl’s son said.

An unspoken hardship not just for Cheryl's son, but hundreds of other students in the Bethel School District.

“These are very capable students,” said Jay Brower, Bethel School District's director of community connections.

About 8 percent of new students enrolled this fall have no home address to give.

Over the past seven years, the number of homeless students in this district has doubled.

More than 200 of them are without housing; "they are literally out in the weather,” Superintendent Tom Seigel said.

They are trying to reach those in need with a repurposed bus packed with food, hygiene backs and other basics.

But the district says the need is beyond the resources they can provide.

The “list to get into shelter, you are looking at six months to 12 months,” said Carly Cappetto, the district's family resources coordinator.

Cheryl's family fortunately got into a shelter quicker than that. It was a room provided by the Tacoma Rescue Mission and, although small, was the lifeline they needed.

“Just having a place to sleep in was the brightest factor of coming out of homelessness,” Cheryl said.

The single mother said it was the positive relationships and mentors at the shelter that helped her kick drugs but most of all she is proud of her son, who is staying strong, even getting good grades despite everything.

“I told myself often to keep going,” Cheryl’s son said.

And it paid off.

Cheryl found a job and now has stability for her children.

“It’s the best feeling. I think I smiled for two weeks when I found out I had an apartment,” Cheryl said.

Not just an apartment -- but a home.

“We are going home, yeah, so awesome. It’s an amazing feeling, I can’t even describe it,” Cheryl said.

She said her family is proof that you can beat homelessness.