Duval student uses struggle with homelessness as motivation to succeed

3,000 homeless students in Duval schools, charity group says

By Jenese Harris - Reporter/anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Claudia Perry struggled and fought homelessness during her senior year at Robert E. Lee High School, and used it as motivation to succeed and inspire others like her. 

The student was made to leave the house when her parents, after 18 years, could no longer afford basic necessities for her.

"They couldn't continue to feed me, continue to house me, clothe me," Perry said. "I was terrified. I was really scared. I didn't know where I was going to go."

Perry's life was in a small box and a couple of bags. She moved from one relative to the next until an aunt took her in.

"I have been in homeless shelters. I have been in foster care," Perry said.

While at Robert E. Lee High School, Perry realized she wasn't alone and joined a program for homeless youth. That's when she learned it's an issue that affects thousands of teens in Duval County.

Betty Burney, founder of the I'm A Star Foundation, which helps homeless youth, says the number of homeless students has grown.

"There are actually 3,000-plus homeless students in Duval County Public Schools. We just don't realize that after the Great Recession, a number of people became homeless," Burney said.

Perry, who was one of those students, was determined to succeed, and in spring of 2018, she graduated. Perry received a scholarship from the I'm A Star Foundation and will attend community college, where she plans to study psychology.

Perry hopes thousands of other homeless students in Duval County can push through and do the same.

"Let struggle be your motivation," Perry said. "I started getting even better grades. I started trying even harder. I started realizing no one is going to do it for me, the world owes me nothing and I am on my own here."

Perry finished high school with a 3.5 grade point average.

She said she doesn't resent her parents for not being able to take care of her. Perry's younger brother still lives at home.

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