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Number of homeless pupils up 2% statewide, extra help is on the way with Student Success Act

COURTESY PHOTO: ALICE PASQUAL FOR UNSPLASH - Statewide there was a 2% increase in students experiencing homelessness. The Reynolds School District had 862 students who were unhoused in the 2018-19 school year, among the highest number in the state.  The Reynolds School District once again had among the highest numbers of unhoused students in the state, enough to fill two big elementary schools, according to statistics just released by the Oregon Department of Education.

In the Reynolds district, 7.82% of the student body was unhoused in the 2018-19 school year. That translates to 862 students who are living in cars or shelters, doubling up with other families or are otherwise unhoused.

Other local districts also have hundreds of students who are homeless.

Gresham-Barlow School District had 362 unhoused students, or 3.02% of the student body last school year.

The Centennial School District had 246 unhoused students in the 2018-19 school year, or 3.98% of its student body.

Corbett School District reported 1.55% of its student body was unhoused or 19 students.

Only five Oregon school districts have more students dealing with homelessness than the Reynolds School District. Beaverton School District had 1,971 students who are unhoused, the highest number of students in any Oregon school district.

Nearby, Portland Public Schools reported 1,217 students experienced homelessness in the 2018-19 school year, or 2.5% of the student body.

The Oregon Department of Education put a cheery spin on the numbers, despite an increase in the number of unhoused students statewide.

"Today's release of the Homeless Student Count is another reminder of the services available to our students, the challenges they face and the bright futures that await them if we can meet their needs," ODE director Colt Gill said in the announcement.

The Student Success Act recently passed by the Oregon Legislature will infuse millions of dollars into local school districts. Some of that money could be used to help homeless students achieve.

"Thanks to the Student Success Act, we'll be able to do more to help students experiencing homelessness graduate from high school with a plan for their future," Gill said in the statement.

"Right now school districts use federal funds to provide essential services such as clothing, school supplies and transportation to school. Student Success Act funds will allow school districts to increase transportation so students can participate in off-campus career and technical programs, after school activities, summer school and other opportunities outside the school day. Student Success Act funds may also be used to coordinate housing for youth and make early learning programs accessible to young children and their families who are experiencing homelessness," he explained.

The ODE noted that the statewide tally of homeless students of 22,215 in the 2018-19 school year was a 2% increase over the prior year but a slight decline from the record 22,541 students set in the 2016-17 school year.

The Reynolds district has multiple programs to help its unhoused students. Five Reynolds schools have food pantries and several have clothing closets for homeless or very low-income families.

In the three new elementary schools opened last year — Fairview, Troutdale and Wilkes — the district installed showers and washing machines, so homeless families have a place to clean up and do laundry.

The district also plans to open a school-based health clinic in Reynolds High School, which would serve students regardless of their ability to pay.

Under the guidelines of the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a student is considered homeless if they 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 substandard housing, tents or trailers.

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