Beaverton School District has highest homeless number in state
The number of homeless students across Oregon is at an all-time high of 22,541, the Oregon Department of Education reported this month. That's a 5.6 percent increase from the year before.
Beaverton School District has the highest number of homeless students in the state, at 1,522. Portland Public Schools has the second-highest number, 1,509.
In total, there were 8,253 students reported homeless in the 25 school districts in Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties. That's several hundred more than last year.
The data is from the 2016-17 school year and uses the federal definition of homeless, which can include children doubled-up with other families or other temporary housing.
Lisa Mentesana, the homeless education liaison and foster care program specialist for the Beaverton School District, pointed to housing shortages as a key factor in the district's and state's high number of homeless students.
"The lack of housing, especially affordable housing, is definitely driving this new wave of family homelessness in Beaverton, Washington County and the Portland Metro area," Mentesana told The Times.
She went on to say that all seven school districts in Washington County are "reporting similar stories of homeless, low income, (and) working families who are mostly employed in the service industry and are no longer able to afford rent in Washington County." She also noted that so far this school year, she is receiving more referrals to homeless district families than she did during the 2008 recession.
Kirsten Carpentier is the development director at HomePlate Youth Services, a Washington County non-profit that operates drop-in centers and outreach programs for homeless youth in Beaverton and Hillsboro. She echoed Mentesana's thoughts on the housing crisis, and added that factors like unsafe homes, struggles with mental health and addiction, aging out of foster care, being part of the LGBTQ community, or having a disability are all factors that can lead to homelessness or exacerbate the problem — especially for the teenagers and early-20s adolescents that HomePlate serves.
"There are many compounding factors that make it harder to find a job and stay in school," Carpentier said "But we're here for them, and we're meeting them where they are at."
Canby School District, a semi-rural area between Wilsonville and Oregon City, had one of the highest percentages in the metro area: 9.1 percent or 431 homeless students.
The Reynolds School District on the border between East Portland and Gresham had the highest percentage — 10.1 percent or 1,168 students.
"While the numbers are heartbreaking, our resolve to make sure these students receive the best education possible is unfailing," said Acting State Deputy Superintendent Colt Gill, who leads the Oregon Department of Education, in a news release. "Thanks to the hard work of liaisons at school districts and their partners in the communities, we can make the school environment as stable as possible for students who are dealing with difficult challenges outside the classroom."
The federal replacement of the No Child Left Behind law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, reconfigured some of the benefits and definitions for homeless students. Programs under the new law, now called McKinney-Vento, require districts to designate a liaison to these students and offer a range of services to keep them in school, such as transportation and school supplies.
Oregon received $502,000 in competitive federal grants for 2016-17. That went to 11 programs, serving 47 of its nearly 200 public school districts.
"There is no doubt that some of the increase comes from raising awareness of the importance of reporting homeless student data and federal programs available under the Every Student Succeeds Act," said Dona Bolt, McKinney-Vento coordinator for Oregon, in a news release. "But other factors such as a lack of affordable housing and not enough family-wage jobs are contributing to the problem."
The Oregon Department of Education notes that housing is not just an urban problem. Nine out of 10 of the highest percentages are in tiny rural districts with fewer than 250 students.
California and Washington also are reporting large increases in homeless student populations.