By Steven DuBois Associated Press
PORTLAND — The number of Oregon students who were homeless during the past school year has fallen slightly, state education officials said Thursday.
Though the number of students classified as homeless fell, it’s still a 28 percent increase from 2007-08, the last school year before the Great Recession became a household term.
The homeless classification doesn’t necessarily mean the child is sleeping in a shelter or on the streets. The tag also applies to students who lack a fixed and regular nighttime residence, such as those who live in motels or bounce between the homes of friends and relatives.
“The recent recession hit many of our families hard, and far too many of our students don’t have the security of a permanent home or a reliable next meal,” Oregon Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton said in a statement. “Until our students’ basic needs are met, they will not be able to fulfill their potential at school.”
Federal rules require school districts to perform an annual count of students without stable housing and hire a liaison to help those students get to school and have the supplies needed to learn.
Education officials said 20,370 students (3.65 percent of all kids in K-12) were homeless at some point during the 2011-12 academic year — 175 fewer than the year before.
The Beaverton, Portland and Medford school districts had the highest number of homeless students, more than 1,200 each. In the relatively small Medford district, that represents 9.7 percent of the total enrollment.
The Rogue Valley’s unemployment rate and the high cost of housing are reasons why families are doubling-up, couch-surfing, living in vehicles and renting motel rooms, said Talia Matthias, a family advocate for the Maslow Project, a homeless youth outreach center that serves the liaison role in Medford.
“Housing is incredibly expensive, including just rentals,” she said. “Trying to get into rentals is devastating to an already nonexistent bank account.”
Though each grade had at least 1,300 homeless students, 12th-graders easily led the way in having an unstable housing situation.
Matthias said “families are just being split” by the abuse of methamphetamine and other drugs, and older teenagers with troubled parents sometimes decide it’s better to camp or sleep on a friend’s couch.
“A lot of kids are choosing to leave parents’ homes due to severe drug use and abuse — there’s a whole gauntlet of issues that come along with that besides the actual drug use,” she said. “A lot of our kids are thinking: ‘I can do this on my own.’”