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News / Clark County News

County’s homeless student numbers on the rise

2,313 kids lacked regular place to sleep in 2014-15 school year

By Susan Parrish, Columbian Education Reporter
Published: February 2, 2016, 9:19pm

More Clark County students than ever are considered homeless. Across the county kids are sleeping in homeless shelters, on couches and floors at Grandma’s house, in unfinished garages and basements, in cars and in tents.

The state released its count of homeless students for the 2014-2015 school year Tuesday. Statewide, 35,511 students were counted as homeless. That’s 3.3 percent of the state’s preschool through 12th grade population, and a 9.1 increase from the previous school year.

Additionally, the number of homeless students increased 62.7 percent from 2009-2010 to 2014-2015.

In most Clark County districts, the number of homeless students grew faster than the state average.

Last school year there were 2,313 homeless students in Clark County.

Vancouver Public Schools’ homeless student population increased by 10.2 percent between the 2013-2014 school year and last school year, and by 112 percent between the 2009-2010 school year and last school year.

Evergreen Public Schools saw an 11 percent increase during that same one-year period and a 71 percent increase during that same five-year period. Battle Ground Public Schools’ student homeless population increased 32 percent in that one year and 103 percent over those five years.

Some good news is that three Clark County school districts — Camas, La Center and Hockinson — experienced a decline in homeless students from 2013-2014 to 2014-2015.

The numbers are alarming, but not unexpected.

“I’m absolutely not surprised,” said Melissa Newhouse, the homeless liaison for Vancouver Public Schools. “Not with the housing crisis that’s happening here in Clark County. The biggest thing we’re seeing in Vancouver is the financial hardship of not being able to pay rent. That is what’s putting our students on the streets, in hotels, in cars or in shelters.”

Evergreen Public Schools, the county’s largest district, already has 800 homeless students this school year.

“It’s a crisis,” said Peggy Carlson, the district’s liaison for homeless students. “We’ve already passed the number we had all of last school year, and we’re only halfway through the school year. Referrals just keep coming.”

She said she’s seen more families living in cars and tents this year. A mom with two kids camped in a tent from August into November until they found a place to live. The district would send a school bus to whatever campground the family was staying.

Although the majority of Battle Ground’s homeless students have moved in with friends or family, the relatively rural district probably has more people living on other people’s property in campers, tents and cars than other districts, said Lydia Sanders, the district’s homeless liaison.

“That gets tough when it’s cold,” she said.

Solutions

Both Vancouver and Evergreen districts have well-connected Family Community Resource Center coordinators at low-income schools ready to help students and families in need.

Newhouse from Vancouver noted that community resources, including the Vancouver Housing Authority, the Council for the Homeless and homeless shelters, “are working really hard to get our families off the street so that kids are attending school.”

“Those partnerships have really helped us meet the needs of these families and help them get back on their feet,” agreed Sanders from Battle Ground. “VHA has opened up the wait list, prioritized families with children.”

Although there’s been a lack of vacant, affordable housing, Sanders said she is seeing more multifamily housing being constructed recently and hopes the tide will begin to turn.

The federal McKinney-Vento Act requires that homeless students be given the same access to education as other students. The law defines a student as homeless if the student lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.

Where feasible, students can remain in their original district and are provided transportation to and from school.

Washington state receives about $950,000 annually from the federal government to help homeless students. The money is given to districts in the form of competitive grants, with money going to the districts with the greatest need.

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Columbian Education Reporter