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Homeless student numbers decline

However, challenges remain as Crook County continues to recover from the recent recession


Newly-released Oregon Department of Education numbers regarding student homelessness show improvement over last year, but school leaders say too many students still suffer.

Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton announced that 18,165 k-12 students in Oregon lived in a homeless situation during the 2012-13 school year, down from 20,370 the prior school year.

“As we head into the holiday season, this report is a reminder of the stark reality faced by thousands of Oregon students and their families on a daily basis,” he said. “No child should have to worry about where they are going to sleep or where their next meal is coming from, but unfortunately, far too many of our students have to do just that.”

In the Crook County School District, 69 students were identified in the report as homeless, representing about 2.19 percent of district’s student body. District curriculum director Stacy Smith, who works with the district’s homeless liaison Yolanda Uriarte, said the local homeless student situation has improved, but still continually challenges them. Much of that challenge revolves around locating homeless students.

“We need to develop strategies for identifying homeless kids,” Smith said. “They are guaranteed a right to enroll in our schools whether they have a permanent residence or not.”

He said they receive a $2,000 grant each year from the federal government to help that effort.

“With this small amount of money, we need to make sure that they are able to get to school, so they access every aspect of school.”

Smith said that the district relies heavily on the school secretaries, who are on the front lines interacting with students on a day-to-day basis.

“They and classroom teachers are the first to understand that a long-time family may have hit hard times,” he said. “All of our secretaries go through training so that they can spot the signs that they might dealing with a (homeless) family.”

Even those efforts come up short. Smith said the district struggles even more when a family who is new to the community is facing homelessness and hasn’t established a school yet.

Once the district identifies a homeless student, the information gathered is funneled to Uriarte who then follows up on the situation.

“In many cases, these families don’t have working addresses or phone numbers, so we have to work piecemeal and by word-of-mouth to get Yolanda to where she needs to go,” Smith said.

As homeless liaison, Uriarte has access to a variety of service organizations in the community that families can turn to for help, as well as faith-based organizations.

In the end, the primary focus of school is education. Yet, when the district deals with a problem like homelessness, they prefer to expand their scope.

“We’re focused on the fundamental needs of the family and ways to make sure the kids have a chance to access their education,” Smith said. “We try to take care of more than just the education piece. We know that kids whose basic needs aren’t being met are going to have a hard time in school. So, our job is to get as many of those (needs) met as possible so that they have a fighting chance when they get here.”




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