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Although having fewer homeless students, district addresses their issues

by: BARBARA SHERMAN - HELPING OUT -- Sitting in the Sherwood School District's SHARE Center are Karen Dalbey (left), director of special programs, and Anne Carlson, the center's coordinator and homeless liaison, who work together to serve homeless students in the district.Students who are homeless might look just like any other student, but they must continually deal with difficult challenges that students with permanent homes can’t even imagine.

The Oregon Department of Education on Nov. 15 released its annual report on homeless students for the 2011-12 school year, with the number topping 20,000 statewide for the second year in a row.

The Sherwood School District had a total of 94 homeless students in pre-K through 12 last year, or 1.88 percent of its student population, which is among the lowest in the state, and the number as of mid-December this year is 64. While that might sound like a huge improvement in the situation, the district had about that same number of homeless students at this time last year, so it is on track to finish the year with a number similar to last year’s.

Homelessness is defined as children and youth who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence and includes those who share housing with other people due to loss of housing, economic hardship or similar reasons; living in motels, hotels, trailer parks or campgrounds due to lack of alternative living conditions; living in emergency or transitional shelters; and so on, including those who are runaways and or denied housing by their families.

Federal law dictates that every school district must have a designated homeless liaison to help homeless students and families connect to resources and navigate the complex social service system, and Anne Carlson is the homeless liaison for Sherwood as well as the coordinator of the Sherwood Family Resource SHARE Center on the Sherwood Middle School campus.

She works with Karen Dalbey, the district’s director of special programs, who is the former homeless liaison.

“In order to identify students, we provide an annual training to all employees on the expanded federal criteria, and in the student enrollment packets, we ask questions in line with the federal requirements,” Dalbey said.

Unaccompanied youth are those not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian who live in the circumstances described above.

“Shared housing is the primary reason a student would qualify as homeless under Title X in Sherwood,” Dalbey said.

The Title X Family Planning Program, which went into effect in 1970, is a federal grant program devoted to providing preventative health services to individuals.

”One of the main purposes of the law is to maintain school stability for students,” Dalbey said. “If students qualify, they can stay in their school of origin (where they started the school year). For example, if a student starts the school year in Sherwood but moves to Tigard due to economic hardship, the student has the choice of continuing to go to school in Sherwood for the rest of that school year.

“We know how important it is for students to stay in the same school. According to statistics, it takes four to six months to recover academically if students change schools.”

According to Carlson, who is in her second year as homeless liaison, not a single homeless student had left Sherwood as of the middle of December.

Carlson said that during the annual trainings, school staffs are told to report potential homeless students to their school counselors, who know the families and are also on the lookout for clues.

“I meet with the counselors monthly, and they really know their families,” Carlson said. “The front office staffs see the parents more and might hear a parent say they are moving from the Middleton to the Archer Glen attendance area, for example.

“I have connections with area preschools, the Rotary, the YMCA – they are all aware of the need to watch for signs of homelessness, and our brochures and fliers are at the YMCA. Also, a lot of families come into the SHARE Center to use its resources.”

Dalbey added, “There are posters in all the buildings about being aware of homelessness, and Anne speaks to community groups about it.”

Carlson explained that when people think of homelessness, they might think of people living on the streets in downtown Portland, but it’s not as obvious in the suburbs.

“One of the main roles of the Title X liaison is to provide school stability by removing all barriers in their way, such as enrollment documentation,” Dalbey said. “Another role is coordinating transportation with the parents if they are within the district – otherwise, you figure out how to get students to school, whether it’s by coordinating with another district or providing district transportation.

“The Title X liaison is responsible for making sure students have all their school supplies – and this is where donations come in handy - and signing students up for free breakfast and lunch.”

The district’s homeless program also is able to provide scholarships to the Summer Institute to help students continue their link to school with math and reading classes plus the enrichment electives.

“We want them to have fun experiences too,” Carlson said. “And we can help them with college financial aid – college is still attainable for them.”

The school district also works with other partners on homeless issues, including Washington County and Oregon’s Healthy Kids Program. Washington County provides two Healthy Kids outreach workers to the district who meet with homeless families to get them signed up for the healthcare program.

Families also can be linked up with the food stamp program, now called SNAP for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

“And there are a network of food banks in Sherwood – Helping Hands, St. Francis and Willowbrook,” Carlson said. “Sherwood 4 Kids Sake works to donate toys and gifts.”

Despite all the help available, subsidized housing is not one of them, according to Carlson.

“There is no subsidized housing in Sherwood, and the Washington County subsidized housing program is no longer taking applications,” she said. “There is a two-year wait to get into housing, so doubling up is often families’ only option. But we have great families in Sherwood helping us out, and local businesses have been very supportive.

“People are always surprised by the numbers of homeless kids in Sherwood and want to help.”

For more information, contact Carlson at acarlsonsherwood.k12.or.us. or call 503-825-5480.



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