New state data reveals a growing trend of students without a fixed, stable place to sleep at night.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - A teacher at Chapman Elementary in 2006 teaches students in Project Return, a program for homeless students. 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.

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.

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, a semi-rural area between Wilsonville and Oregon City, 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," said Acting Deputy Superintendent Colt Gill, who leads the state's 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."

During the federal replacement of 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.

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."

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 are also reporting large increases in homeless student populations.

(Hover cursor over graph above for more detailed information on each local school district.)

Shasta Kearns Moore
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