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Nearly 8,000 public school children — a 9.3 percent increase from two years ago — in the tri-county area meet the federal definition of homeless.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - A formerly homeless woman visits Human Solutions, a shelter program in outer Southeast Portland. Portland Public Schools has more homeless students than any other district in the state. Hillsboro ranks 17th, although it's the state's fourth largest district.Nearly 8,000 public school children in the tri-county area meet the federal definition of homeless. — a 9.3 percent increase from two years ago.

That's according to 2015-16 data released Thursday from the Oregon Department of Education.

Portland Public Schools, the state's largest district, had the highest number of homeless students in the area but one of the lowest percentages in Multnomah County. PPS has 1,434 homeless students, 3 percent of its student population. In the 2013-14 school year, the district's rate was 2.6 percent.

The rate has been rising in PPS, just like in the state as a whole. The department of education says after three years of growth, the current statewide homeless student rate now exceeds the one during the economic recession.

East Portland districts experience homeless student rates at up to three times PPS' rate.

In Multnomah-Washington-Clackamas counties, Reynolds School District based in Fairview had the highest percentage at 9.8 percent or 1,128 students, though that has fallen from last year's 11.5 percent.

Parkrose School District in Northeast Portland had 8.4 percent, and the dubious distinction of third-place in the region went to Canby School District with 7.6 percent or 357 students. Portland's Centennial School District and David Douglas School District were at 6.4 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively.

Students get rides to school, not much else

Statewide, 3.7 percent, which is 21,340 students, "lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence," as per the federal definition.

Marti Heard, PPS' homeless program liaison, said this includes students living in transitional housing, substandard housing or grossly overcrowded housing, among other situations.

"It's not just students who are on the streets or in shelters, but it's also anyone who's in a motel or are doubled-up," Heard said.

Districts start at zero at the beginning of the year and start counting up qualified students referred to them from staff, parents or teachers. Protection under McKinney-Vento (what used to be called Title X) qualifies students for referrals to other programs.

"A lot of what we're doing is talking to families about getting on certain wait lists," said Heard, who adds that there are not enough family shelters in Portland.

Mostly, the direct benefit from the district is in specialized transportation so homeless students can continue attending their home school. The students are dropped from the program each June and if they become residents of a different district, they are no longer considered homeless and must attend that district's school or apply for an inter-district transfer.

Heard said this is displacing a lot of families.

"We just see a tremendous number of people being replaced … and not having the resources to get back into the housing market," she said. "There are lots of new developments going in in Portland, but they are out of reach for most of our families."

Heard said housing instability can have a "tremendous impact" on students, including falling behind in schoolwork.

"We feel like we are losing low-income students, which are disproportionately students of color, because of this," she said, adding: "It's a widespread problem and it's affecting a lot more families than people would realize."

Heard said there are qualifying students in every school in the district.

Many children are poor

The Portland area is not the hardest hit in the state, percentage-wise. Butte Falls School District, which consists of a 160-student charter school in Southern Oregon's Jackson County, had 52 children or 36 percent listed as homeless. Dayville School District in Eastern Oregon's Grant County had 10 students, or 20 percent, of its one-school population.

As in much of the country, is not unusual for a child to live in poverty in the state.

The National Center for Children in Poverty, a national public policy center based at Columbia University, reports that 21 percent of Oregon children live under the extremely low federal poverty limit level. The NCCP considers another 24 percent to be low-income, for a combined 45 percent of the state's 834,892 children whose families cannot independently provide for their basic needs.

This story has been updated from its original version.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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