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Sunset High School students press for new Beaverton-area homeless shelter

Teens take case for safe, temporary housing to City Hall


If Beth Merrill’s students truly ace their Senior Seminar class, it could mean much more than a nice mark on their report cards.

It could mean a roof overhead for people who have nowhere to call home.

Merrill’s class at Sunset High School on Wednesday took their idea of creating Beaverton’s only homeless shelter from the realm of posters in the school’s hallways straight into the halls of power in a presentation to elected leaders, nonprofit agencies and others at City Hall.

The group of 17- and 18-year-olds hope their “Project Citizen” effort will inspire partnerships among civic, nonprofit and corporate leaders that they believe will be necessary to turn a classroom assignment into a reality. They plan to speak with city officials to see how zoning rules might affect their plan.

“I believe that a lot of people are supporting the idea,” said class member Yigit Sener, 17, an exchange student from Turkey.

At the beginning of this project, which is affiliated with the Classroom Law Project in Portland and the national Center for Civic Education, students brainstormed community issues to tackle before settling on homeless youth, a problem for a surprising number of students in Beaverton. Unlike Tigard, Hillsboro and Portland, Beaverton doesn’t have a stand-alone shelter to provide a safe haven for families without a place to stay.

“I feel like it’s such a big problem in our community that we didn’t know about,” said Daisy Martinez, 17.

During the 2013-14 school year, the Beaverton School District again had more homeless students than any other district in Oregon, with about 1,300 students who met the Oregon Department of Education’s definition. Put another way, on average there would be a homeless child for every class of 30 kids.

The scope of the problem was shocking to Sener, who was surprised to find that homelessness was such a problem in a wealthy country such as the United States while it’s virtually unknown in his own country.

“America should be taking care of their people,” he said, “but they’re not.”

A classmate, Paige White, knew that one of her classmates was homeless a few years back.

“It was just sad because he didn’t always do all the work, because he didn’t have all the resources,” the 17-year-old said.

Merrill said she is proud of her students’ accomplishments.

“They saw a need in our community and, in collaboration with community partners, looked ... for a solution,” she said.

Bri Hollister, also 17, said the class has made students step beyond their comfort zones in a way they don’t in a typical math or literature course.

“It would definitely be easier to stick to that,” she said, “but I think it’s really good in this class that we’re actually on the way to helping people.”

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