State educators reported this week a 14 percent increase in homeless schoolchildren across the state -- total of 18,000 kids are now experiencing homelessness, up from 15,851 last year, and up from 8,143 when the numbers were first reported in 2003-2004.
"These numbers are extremely upsetting, but not surprising, given that Oregon is first in homelessness, second in unemployment, and third in hunger the nation," said Patti Whitney-Wise, executive director of the Oregon Hunger Task Force.
Recent studies indicate children's academic achievement suffers when families are forced to relocate repeatedly during the school year. A new Chalkboard Project report has found that Hispanic students in Oregon must change schools more frequently than their White peers, contributing to an academic achievement gap. Similar trends exist for other communities of color.
"In the thirty years since the federal government switched priorities for housing subsidies away from poor people to homeowners, we've been facing an uphill battle," said Michael Anderson, executive director of the Oregon Opportunity Network. "This economic crisis just exposes fractures in the existing housing delivery system."
In addition to the challenges people face because of broken federal housing system, the foreclosure crisis is putting pressure on the rental housing market.
"As rental home prices continue to rise, we are seeing more and more families at risk of homelessness because they can't afford their home or the cost to move if they are forced to leave," said Ari Rapkin, co- director of the Community Alliance of Tenants. "There just isn't enough housing that is affordable to meet the need of hard working families. Investing in affordable housing opportunities is the best way to prevent children from being homeless."
Under Title X of the No Child Left Behind Act, school districts must conduct annual homeless student counts. The Act is meant to ensure that homeless students have equal access to a free, appropriate public education despite lacking a fixed place of residence or a supervising parent or guardian.
Schools must count as homeless any student who lacks a sturdy permanent home, including those whose families are doubled up with friends or family for economic reasons; families who live in cars, tents, garages or trailers without running water or electricity; families living in motels; and children living in homeless shelters.