07 30 2016
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The Wake of Vanport

For the majority of Portland's students, having a safe home is a comfort that is taken for granted. But a small but growing portion of students in the state are experiencing home insecurity according to a report released by the Oregon Department of Education. The report shows homelessness has jumped 18 percent since the 2005-2006 school year, while federal funding for programs has decreased 10 percent.
Yet student homelessness is one of Portland's shameful secrets.
Why? Because you won't see homeless kids and teens camping on the steps of the nearest school or standing on street corners. They are sleeping on couches with friends or relatives, or they are staying in shelters or at motels. And although many of them live with their families in homelessness, many are still on their own.
Meghann Darne, a youth advocate for Portland OIC/Rosemary Anderson High School, gives mentoring to homeless students and says the numbers don't surprise her.
"Unless we have services in this neighborhood (North and Northeast)… unless we meet that housing need, we're going to remain in constant crisis," she said.
Darne said the system is constructed without regard to prevention. She said she's seen students who have known in advance that they would need rental assistance or temporary shelter because of a pregnancy, yet she could do little to help them. The system only helps those with an eviction notice in hand or a teen who just gave birth – if there's even room at the shelter.
"We can give them noodles, a bus pass and clothing," she said. "But these are only Band Aids on a larger issue."
When measuring the number of homeless students in the state, the Oregon Department of Education did not survey students on the basis of race. Dona Bolt, coordinator of the state Homeless Education Program, said racial data hasn't been collected in about 15 years, although she says the number of homeless minorities is higher than that of Whites. In rural areas, there tends to be a greater number of Hispanic migrant workers.
Bolt, who has been working with the issue for 20 years, said part of the increase is due to a decrease in dropouts.
"Homeless liaisons help get them into counseling," she said. "It keeps more kids in schools these days."
And the number of homeless seniors is more than at any other grade level. In Portland there are 277 homeless seniors, compared to 150 homeless freshman.
Although some critics of social programs blame homelessness on runaways or a disaffection for work, Darne said the vast majority of homeless students got that way because of a dysfunctional or absent family. One of her students aged out of the foster care system and is currently living with his girlfriend's family, who is also low-income and struggling. He's working full time while trying to finish high school. He's also expecting his first child.
Another student lived on the streets for a time to escape a domestic violence situation. Her mother had found space at a shelter, or at the homes of various boyfriends before the daughter began dabbling in drugs and a dangerous relationship. Currently the mother and daughter are living together again, and the mother is working toward getting their own apartment.
"It is a cycle and those most susceptible to homelessness have parents who aren't there or have experienced homelessness themselves," she said.

15,517 of Oregon's 562,828 K-12 students (2.8 percent) were homeless for some period of time during 2006-07
7,178 homeless students were enrolled in grades K-5
3,235 homeless students were enrolled in grades 6-8
5,104 homeless students were enrolled in grades 9-12

15,517 of Oregon's 562,828 K-12 students (2.8 percent) were homeless for some period of time during 2006-07 7,178 homeless students were enrolled in grades K-5 3,235 homeless students were enrolled in grades 6-8 5,104 homeless students were enrolled in grades 9-12


15,517 of Oregon's 562,828 K-12 students (2.8 percent) were homeless for some period of time during 2006-07 7,178 homeless students were enrolled in grades K-5 3,235 homeless students were enrolled in grades 6-8 5,104 homeless students were enrolled in grades 9-12


15,517 of Oregon's 562,828 K-12 students (2.8 percent) were homeless for some period of time during 2006-07 7,178 homeless students were enrolled in grades K-5 3,235 homeless students were enrolled in grades 6-8 5,104 homeless students were enrolled in grades 9-12
POIC is also trying to raise money for a homeless youth shelter in the North/Northeast area. While several youth shelters exist downtown – including Outside In and New Avenues – Darne said many in North/Northeast Portland don't want to travel downtown.
Bhaktirose Bennett, employment program coordinator for New Avenues, said their counselors are working extensively in the North/Northeast community and says 40 percent of their youth come from that neighborhood. They are working through several alternative high schools in the area – including YEI and POIC – to find students in need of job placement, housing, job training, substance abuse treatment, and other services in their own community.
The increase cited in the report also matches a trend New Avenues experienced in the last two years, a near doubling of their casework. Currently, outreach workers at New Avenues have on average 100 teens in their caseload, and Bennett thinks they reach 10 to 20 percent of all homeless youth.
Portland Public Schools also helps homeless students through Project Return. Coordinators for Project Return were unavailable for comment.


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