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Beaverton School District's homeless students increasing

Beaverton again has most students without housing in Oregon

The Beaverton School District again counted more homeless students than any other district in Oregon last school year.

The district counted 1,380 students — nearly 3.5 percent of the student body — who at some point during the 2014-15 school year did not have their own home. Beaverton also had the most homeless students of any Oregon district the previous two school years, according to data from the Oregon Department of Education.

On top of that, the current school year is barely more than a month along and Beaverton school officials already have counted about 500 students who need services related to homelessness, a pace that suggests the problem could be worsening, said Lisa Mentesana, who coordinates services for the Beaverton district’s homeless youth through the district's newly renamed Homeless Education Liaison Program.Beaverton School District

Beaverton’s 7 percent increase helped push the statewide enrollment of homeless students back to levels seen at the height of the Great Recession. The statewide rate last year increased 9 percent, showing that the homelessness problem extends well beyond Beaverton.

The increases come as area residents face skyrocketing housing costs that blunt the gains from an improved jobs outlook.

“I definitely think that lack of affordable housing and what’s happening in the rental housing market is driving this,” Mentesana said.

Mentesana said Beaverton’s large student body also is served by relatively few community services for people who are currently at risk of becoming homeless. For example, she said that neighboring Tigard, Hillsboro and Portland all have shelters that can help struggling families get back on their feet while the Beaverton area does not.

The lack of shelters play into what Mentesana called a “troubling” 73-percent increase in the number of completely unsheltered students attending Beaverton schools. The 78 youngsters tallied in that category spent at least part of last school year living in camps, cars and similar circumstances, she said. At the same time, the numbers of students living in homeless shelters dipped as competition for limited spots spiked, she said.

Mentesana said one of her biggest concerns, as the season changes, is the lack of cold-weather shelter space for families in Washington County.

“If we don’t plan for this, it’s going to be really, really sad,” she said.

By far, most Beaverton students who were homeless at least part of last year were “doubled-up,” a statistical category that includes families or individual students who move in with another family on a temporary basis. This group includes mostly high-schoolers “couch surfing” with another family, Mentesana said.

The district provides education services directly, including transportation, and works to connect homeless students and their families to other services.

Beaverton is the third-largest school district in the state. It again had slightly more homeless students than the Oregon’s largest school district, Portland Public Schools which had 1,325, and significantly more than the second-largest district, Salem-Keizer School District’s 971.

Other districts with large numbers of homeless students included the Reynolds School District in northeastern Multnomah County, which had the state’s second-highest homeless count last year with 1,350, and the Medford School District with 1,206. Both of those districts had a larger percentage of their student bodies who faced homelessness last year compared to Beaverton.

“Despite an improving economy, many Oregon families are still struggling just to meet their most basic needs,” Salam Noor, Oregon’s deputy superintendent, said in a news release from the state agency. “Far too many children don’t know where their next meal is coming from or where they will sleep at night. The significant increase in homeless youth — particularly in unsheltered youth — is deeply troubling.

“However, I know that this is an issue that our local communities, social services partners, and schools are working to address. I am very proud of the good work done by our school district homeless liaisons to reach out to students and families and provide support during such a challenging time.”

Mentesana said the homeless rate shouldn’t reflect negatively on the broader community. Many families have been helped out of difficult situations, but more resources are still needed as difficult economic conditions strike more people. She said one solution would be to work more closely with property managers to help keep people in their homes so fewer need community services.

“We’ve worked really hard to provide services that will really provide these families stability,” she said. “I think that’s important in the big picture.”

HELP open house

The Beaverton School District's Homeless Education Liaison Program is inviting the public to an open house at its new headquarters on Nov. 1, which is the start of National Homeless Awareness Month.

The new office location is 4925 S.W. Angel St. in Beaverton's Old Town neighborhood.

The program has served the needs of homeless children, youth and families in the district since 2001 but recently was renamed HELP. Coordinator Lisa Mentesana said students and families who need services because they are affected by homelessness should first contact a counselor at their school.

The new office was created with help from Love Inc., Catalyst NW Ministries, SSOE Group, Applied Technical Systems, Home Depot, Nordstrom, Mission + Salt = Light, First Book and many community churches.