More than 250 homeless students recorded in Woodburn
The number of homeless students across Oregon are at an all-time high of 22,541, the Oregon Department of Education reported Wednesday. That's a 5.6 percent increase from the year before.
The districts with the largest populations of homeless youth are Portland Public Schools, with 1,509 students, and Beaverton School District with even more at 1,522.
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.
In Woodburn, 255 students, or 4.51 percent, were counted as homeless, up from 210, or 3.67 percent, last year.
"I think we're seeing more families in crisis," said WSD Superintendent Chuck Ransom. "Affordable housing is a huge problem. That's been reported a lot in the Portland metro area, but really it's a statewide issue."
That includes more rural locations like St.Paul School District, which shot up in one year from 1.93 percent to 4.49 percent of its student population being considered homeless. In fact, nine out of 10 of the highest percentages reported are in tiny rural districts with fewer than 250 students.
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.
"For us, it's mostly the doubling up," Ransom said, noting that 64 percent of Woodburn homeless students' families are sharing homes with other families.
In the Portland metro area, Reynolds School District on the border between east Portland and Gresham had the highest percentage — 10.1 percent or 1,168 students. Canby School District had 9.1 percent or 431 homeless students.
"While the numbers are heartbreaking, our resolve to make sure these students receive the best education possible is unfailing," Acting Deputy Superintendent Colt Gill said 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."
Ransom also attributed the rise in numbers to the district being more in tune with families' needs.
"(It's also because of) the work everybody has done, including in Woodburn, to find ways to identify families, from working with them when they come into the district, to asking the right questions to make sure they get the support they need," he said. "To keep track, it's just the work we do as a staff of getting to know our families and making sure we meet their needs."
In the federal replacement to No Child Left Behind, the Every Student Succeeds Act reconfigured some of the benefits and definitions for homeless students. Now called McKinney-Vento, the programs 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. In Woodburn, this means a home school contact in every school, plus extra positions based in the district office.
Oregon received $502,000 in the competitive federal grants for 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."
California and Washington are also reporting large increases in homeless student populations.
Closer to home, North Marion, Gervais and Mount Angel school districts actually saw decreases in their homeless student counts: North Marion is just at 0.89 percent, Gervais at 4.32 percent (down from 6.65 last year) and Mount Angel at 3.48 percent (down from 5.37 last year).
Shasta Kearns Moore contributed to this story.
(Hover cursor over graph above for more detailed information on each local school district.)