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Close to 1,500 homeless students reside in the county

by: SUBMITTED GRAPH: ODE - The number of identified homeless students in Oregon K-12 public schools has more than doubled in the last 10 years.Fifteen students out of 8,479 students in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District were homeless during the 2011-12 school year, according to reports from the Oregon Department of Education. A total of 1,492 homeless students were counted in Clackamas County during the same time period.

Twenty-six students out of 8,422 students in the school district were homeless during the 2010-11 school year. While the number of homeless students appears to be trending down, Deputy Superintendent Jane Stickney said the fluctuation in numbers could be attributed to just one family.

“It certainly isn’t appropriate to claim there is a trend,” Stickney said, noting that the number of homeless students remains static each year.

Stickney said the 15 homeless students fall into various categories. Some reside in shelters, others in motels. Some students are minors who have been abandoned by or ran away from caretakers.

“Each of our schools are alert to students who register as homeless or are entering a homeless situation at some point,” she said. “We try to wrap our arms around any child and family who needs help.”

According to ODE, homelessness is defined as children and youth who “lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” A homeless family could live in an emergency shelter or transitional housing unit, share housing with others due to loss of housing or economic hardship, reside in motels or live in tents or trailers for lack of alternative, adequate housing.

Unaccompanied minors who have been abandoned by their parents or who have run away from home are also eligible for educational rights and services as homeless students.

State education agencies are required to submit an aggregate report of the counts from all school districts in the state to the U.S. Department of Education. To protect student confidentiality, individual students are not identified in the data collection.

Stickney said the school district’s priority is to ensure students are able to not only attend, but succeed in school regardless of their living situation. Administrators and school counselors help homeless students gain access to transportation, free meals at school and instructional support.

“Our main role is making sure that their education continues during their time of need,” she added. “Homelessness is one condition that can affect a child’s ability to get to school regularly, to be properly nourished, to have support with their homework and access to field trips and extracurricular activities. We try to make sure all of those things are not barriers to a child’s full participation at school.”

Homelessness statewide

The number of identified homeless students in Oregon K-12 public schools has more than doubled in the last 10 years.

Statewide, 20,370 students in Oregon’s K-12 public schools lived in a homeless situation at some point during the 2011-12 school year. This is down slightly from the 20,545 reported in the previous school year.

Only 40 of Oregon’s 197 school districts reported zero homeless students during the 2011-12 school year. Oregon school districts with the largest numbers of homeless students for the 2011-12 school year include:

Medford — Homeless students represent 9.7 percent of student enrollment.

Reynolds — Homeless students represent 8.9 percent of student enrollment.

Bend-LaPine — Homeless students represent 4.6 percent of student enrollment.

“These numbers are a sobering reminder of the very real impact our economic situation is having on our students and families. It is also a reminder of how essential our support services are,” said state Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton.

The majority of homeless students in 2011-12 resided in shared housing (16,151 students) and in shelters (2,533 students).

As in past years, there were more homeless students enrolled in 12th grade than any other grade level. The number of unaccompanied homeless minors who have been abandoned by their parents or who have run away from home also continues to rise.

In 2011-12, there were 3,913 identified unaccompanied minors, an increase of more than 400 minors from the previous year.

“Homelessness affects all of us,” Saxton said. “The recent recession hit many of our families hard, and far too many of our students don’t have the security of a permanent home or a reliable next meal. Until our students’ basic needs are met, they will not be able to fulfill their potential at school.”

Homelessness legislation

The right of homeless children and youth to have equal access to the same free, appropriate public education provided to other children is ensured under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which was enacted in 1987.

The act requires that every district designate a homeless liaison to identify and provide services to homeless students and to contribute to the annual data collection on preschool through grade 12 public school-enrolled homeless children and youth.

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