SALEM, Ore. — There are more than 22,000 K-12 students who experienced some form of homelessness during the last school year, according to an annual count performed by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE). More than 17 percent of those students attended school between five southern Oregon counties.
The count includes all students who did not have a "a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence" during the 2018-19 school year, and represents a small increase over the previous school year.
"The 22,215 figure represents a two percent increase over the 2017-18 total of 21,746 homeless students, and a slight decline from the record of 22,541, set in the 2016-17 school year," ODE said.
Guidelines set out by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act define a homeless student as one living in an emergency shelter, transitional housing, shared housing with others because of lost housing or economic hardship, living in motels or in substandard housing such as tents or trailers.
Nearly 4,000 of the students identified as homeless last year attended school in either Curry, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, or Lake county. Jackson County had, by far, the largest share of homeless students in southern Oregon with upwards of 2,200.
According to ODE, the recently adopted Student Success Act will do much to combat homelessness among students. The bill, which instituted a half-percent gross receipts tax on Oregon businesses with $1 million or more in sales and prompted a walkout by Senate Republicans earlier this year, promises $2 billion to Oregon schools over the next two years.
"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,” said ODE Director Colt Gill.
“Right now school districts use federal funds to provide essential services such as clothing, school supplies and transportation to school," Gill continued. "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."
Gill said that Student Success Act funds may also be used to coordinate housing for youth, and could make early-learning programs accessible to young children and their families who are experiencing homelessness.
Meanwhile, the Local Innovation and Fast Track (LIFT) Housing Program created in 2016 promises to build affordable housing for "vulnerable families," particularly for rural communities and communities of color. So far it has financed the building of 2,200 new family homes, ODE said. Lawmakers recently added $150 million to the program.
Jackson County's most recent "point in time" (PIT) count of the homeless population identified 712 people — including adults — that were without stable housing or living unsheltered. ODE's count found significantly more homeless children than the PIT identified in total, although the definition of homelessness differs between the two.
At the time of the PIT count, the Maslow Project told NewsWatch 12 that it did not include many of the at-risk youth that the organization serves on a regular basis.
For more information on the McKinney-Vento Act or to view the data by District or living situation, you can visit the state's website here.