Two area women Cherlyn Miller and Karina Granda seem to have a lot in common — they’re unmarried, with no children of their own and they’ve known each other since the sixth grade. But about six years ago, the two could not have predicted the turn their lives would take — a turn that would leave them both caring for young children and turning to each other for support.
They aren’t alone, however. Out of 2,110 children considered homeless in Pinellas County Schools, 1,700 are sharing housing with others, according to data collected in a recent Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless report (“Point-In-Time Count of Homeless Individuals in Pinellas County,” May 2011).
Of those students considered homeless, 62 are in Dunedin.
The largest concentration of homeless students, however, are in Largo, Clearwater and St. Petersburg, where Miller and Granda live.
Cherlyn Miller of Seminole helped care for her brother’s daughter Ashley since birth. When times and circumstances got tough for her brother, she grew more involved in Ashley’s life, until becoming her primary caregiver at the age of 6.
Miller began incurring debt after bringing Ashley, now 12, to live in her home.
Her schedule became instantly hectic. She leaves her finance job mid-afternoon each day to pick up her niece from school, drop her off at cheerleading practice, and then, return to work. On occasion, she brings Ashley to the office.
To overcome her financial struggles, she lives on a tight budget and stays within her means to cut out unnecessary expenses. It has become a little easier for Miller since her boyfriend moved in two years ago, allowing her to split the bills, but admits that becoming a caregiver puts a strain on her personal relationships.
“I can’t just think about myself now, it’s not just about me anymore. I am a package deal,” she said. But added, “As challenging as this is, I wouldn’t change anything. When my niece was born, I really started living. She is the reason I get up every morning. She is my world, and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for her.”
Miller is enrolled in classes at St. Petersburg College, where she is pursuing a nursing degree. It’s something she said she’s always wanted to do, and it will provide a better life for her niece.
“Because of Ashley, I am following my dream,” she said.
More than a year ago, Cherlyn Miller’s longtime friend Karina Granda, 37, of Largo offered to let a friend’s daughter, affectionately called “little Karina,” stay with her for three months at a time when her friend was going through extreme personal and financial hardship.
Times were tight when Granda added daycare, clothing, and all of little Karina’s needs to her budget.
After that time, Granda helped out until eventually becoming little Karina’s legal guardian.
“In the beginning, I didn’t know there was any help available since I’m not a blood relative,” she said. “I knew I just had to make ends meet somehow.”
Granda learned that she was eligible for assistance through her caseworker with the Florida Department of Children and Families. Little Karina gets full medical coverage until she is 18 and she’ll be eligible for a college scholarship. Granda can also receive food stamps for little Karina each month.
“I used to be embarrassed to use food stamps to buy food for her, and sometimes I still am,” Granda said. “I never want it to appear as if I am taking advantage of the system because I know I’m a lot better off than many others. But I realize that I am doing something to help the system by taking care of a child in need. The assistance we have enables me to further provide other things for her that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.”
Granda has had little Karina, now 6, in her custody for more than a year. They share a home with her younger brother to cut expenses.
“This experience has changed my life,” she said.
Caregiver Support Resources:
- See if you qualify for tax relief. Visit the I.R.S. Child Tax Credit Information site.
- Visit Florida Department of Children and Families online. It is a hub of resources for food assistance, temporary assistance and medical assistance for those who find themselves caring for a child.
- Also, visit the link if you aren’t caring for a child, but still want to help.
- Homeless Emergency Project, just over the border in Clearwater, also has resources and programs that serve children and families in Dunedin. Follow the link if you need help or want to learn how to get involved.