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The Times offers a helping hand with publication

'A Helping Hand' is the first Community Newspapers special section dedicated to exploring and helping alleviate the problem of homelessness in our area.Homelessness.

Everyone agrees that it’s one of the most heart-wrenching crises of our era, but what to do about it?

There are days when it brings to mind the old adage about the weather: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody seems to do anything about it.”

But now, with the holiday season upon us, we need to do what we can. Here at Pamplin Media Group, we’ll do what we do best: sharing stories, sharing concerns and sharing resources to help make things in our communities better.

Click here to check out a special section of today's issue of The Times that shines a light on the problem of homelessness, shares the stories of the homeless, and offers information about resources that might help make things better.

See Times reporter Eric Apalategui's reporting on work being done in Tigard-Tualatin and Beaverton school districts to combat homelessness.

TIMES FILE PHOTO - The Beaverton School District HELP (Homeless Education Liaison Program) Center has served area homeless students since 2001, but moved into new offices near the Beaverton City Library back in October.

A HELP-ing hand

Several groups assist homeless students and families in Beaverton, Tualatin and Tigard

For three years now, the Beaverton School District has counted more homeless students — 1,380 during the course of last school year alone — than any other school district in Oregon.

The need definitely didn’t end last June. Beaverton officials already are off to another quick start counting homeless students during the first months of this school year.

The problem is smaller but also increasing in neighboring Tigard-Tualatin School District, which counted 188 homeless students last year, up from 148 the previous year. The district already had counted 100 homeless students in just the first three months of this school year.

In all, 3.47 percent of Beaverton students faced some form of homelessness last year, although the majority were temporarily living with other families and not out on the streets.

By comparison, neighboring Tigard-Tualatin reported that 1.48 percent of its student body was homeless at some point during the 2014-15 school year, according to Oregon Department of Education data released in October.TIMES FILE PHOTO - Second Home student coordinator Jennifer Pratt, talks with (left to right) Jim Brooks from the city of Beaverton's Dispute Resolution Center, Beaverton School District liaison to homeless students Lisa Mentesana, and Carly Burkey, also with the city's Dispute Resolution Center, regarding strategies related to Second Home, an organization dedicated to assisting homeless teens, in 2013.

Factors contributing to high numbers of homeless students in Beaverton include its large size, demographics, skyrocketing rents and relative lack emergency housing services, said Lisa Mentesana, who coordinates services for students and their families who don’t have stable housing.

Those factors pushing homelessness are largely beyond the control of school districts charged with educating the students under the McKinney-Vento Act.

“It’s everything from the lack of affordable housing and living wage jobs to the need for more mental health services. It’s all interconnected,” agreed Ally Kinnaman, a community liaison with Colossae Church in Tigard, which works with the Tigard-Tualatin School District on addressing local issues.

“Housing is more expensive than it was (during the recession),” Kinnaman said. “Even if you are working two jobs or working full time, it will probably be a significant amount of your income (spent) on housing.”

Beaverton may also have higher numbers for another factor.

“I think Beaverton does an excellent job of tracking their homeless students, so their numbers are higher (because of) that,” said Howard Kenyon, director of program operations for the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, which partners with the district for the Second Home program.

That program is just one way Mentesana and others in the Beaverton School District’s Homeless Education Liaison Program work to connect students’ families with resources to help find stable housing while also providing an education. Earlier this year HELP moved into new offices at 4925 S.W. Angel St. in Beaverton's Old Town neighborhood.

Mentesana said Beaverton’s increasing lack of affordable housing has been a crucial part of the equation, helping negate job gains made with the improving economy. She said many low-income district residents have been faced with recent rent increases of about $400 to $600 per month.

“Families just can’t afford that,” she said. “The whole county is facing this. It’s really been a challenging year.”

Community organizations are working to lessen the problem, but the need often outpaces the resources.

For example, Second Home partners with the district and the city of Beaverton’s Dispute Resolution Center to place homeless teenagers not living with parents with other families who can host them while they finish their high school educations. On average it serves about 10 teens per year but could use more donations and host families to serve more, Kenyon said.

The district also has programs to provide necessities including clothing and health care to low-income students, including those who are or have been homeless.

The Beaverton School District is Oregon’s third largest and serves a population of about 260,000 people. Yet there is not a single homeless shelter within yet contains no local homeless shelters, while smaller districts including Tigard-Tualatin and Hillsboro have shelters within their boundaries.

Several groups want to change that. For example, a class from Sunset High School last winter asked the Beaverton City Council to help establish a shelter similar to Tigard’s Good Neighbor Center to serve the Beaverton area.

Mentesana worries that Beaverton doesn’t even have a temporary, family-friendly warming shelter as wintery weather blows into the region.

“We can do a lot better than this,” she said.

Tigard-Tualatin assistance

Tigard-Tualatin also has programs to help struggling families.

For example, the Caring Closet is a nonprofit organization run through the district that offers free clothes, shoes, toiletries and other necessities to needy students.

“Often, it isn’t school that’s the problem; it’s the stuff that kids have no control over,” said Susan Stark Haydon, Tigard-Tualatin’s district spokeswoman.

The district has a Family Resource Center to help get families connected with necessary food and housing programs. The district runs school-based health centers at its Tigard and Tualatin high school campuses to provide medical treatment and backpack programs for families in need of food over the weekends.

The nonprofit Good Neighbor Center on Southwest Greenburg Road and a warming shelter at St. Anthony Catholic Church help meet immediate needs, while Community Partners for Affordable Housing develops longer-term homes for low-income families in both the Tigard and Beaverton areas. Newly arrived Safe Families for Children also helps brings resources to help families in need.

Reporter Geoff Pursinger contributed to this story.