At least 2 percent of Oregon's students are homeless: They are never sure where they are going to spend the night — in a shelter or motel, at a park or in a car.
Until last year, they may have gone unnoticed. But, due to a new federal requirement, they are being counted this year. The count was conducted by those in Oregon's school districts who work with homeless students.
At least 11,294 students throughout Oregon are homeless. But school officials believe the count may be higher; only 70 percent of Oregon's 198 districts participated in the count for 2004-2005.
Portland Public Schools has the most homeless kids, with 1,620. Beaverton has 285; Hillsboro, 282; Parkrose, 127; North Clackamas, 108; David Douglas, 77; Centennial, 62; Forest Grove, 56; and Tigard, 52.
"This is a heartbreaking report that shows thousands of children in Oregon attend school despite lack of safe and stable living situations," said state Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo.
"Homeless youth face huge challenges before they even get to the school door," Castillo added. "Schools work hard to provide these students with what they need to ensure they can access the same educational opportunities available to every other student."
The results of the homeless student count are:
• 11,294 — or 2 percent — of Oregon's 552,320 students in kindergarten through 12th grade were homeless for some period of time during 2004-05. Of those,
• 5,052 homeless students were enrolled in grades kindergarten through five;
• 2,464 homeless students were enrolled in grades six through eight;
• 3,778 homeless students were enrolled in grades nine through 12; and
• The greatest numbers of homeless students were 12th graders, at 1,183
Of the 11,294 homeless students in the state, 1,622 — about 14 percent — were unaccompanied minors who had been abandoned by parents or had run away from home.
Fifty-six percent of homeless students in Oregon reported sharing housing with relatives or friends due to economic hardship or similar reason. Another 17 percent reported living in a homeless shelter; 9 percent reported being unsheltered; 5 percent reported living in motels; and 13 percent were unknown.
Although state officials believe the 2004-2005 total to be an undercount of actual homeless students in the state, they expect that accuracy will improve with time.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 1 to 2 million youth are homeless nationwide, about 2 percent of all 5- to 18-year-olds. Homeless youth are defined as minors who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. A homeless family could live in an emergency shelter or share housing with others due to loss of housing or economic hardship, stay at motels or live in cars, parks, public places, tents, trailers or other similar settings.
The federal McKinney-Vento Act Homeless Education Program ensures that homeless children have equal access to the same education provided to other children. Each school district is required to have a liaison working with the homeless to coordinate outreach efforts and services for homeless students in their area.
Castillo credited the work of local homeless liaisons for compiling the count data and for providing services to homeless students that include school enrollment, extra tutoring and referrals for shelter, housing, health care and counseling services.
"Homeless liaisons are often unsung heroes who do a very important job in our schools," Castillo said. "They regularly provide clothing, school supplies and transportation for homeless and displaced students and families, even acting as emergency contacts at school for unaccompanied youth separated from their parents and guardians."
Services for homeless students are provided by school districts with local funds, which may be supplemented by Title I funds, McKinney-Vento grants and other federal funds.
Oregon received $640,532 in federal funds from the McKinney-Vento program in 2004-2005. Forty-four local districts were served by 23 subgrant projects last year, which together helped 7,878 homeless children and youth to attend public schools. Applications for the next round of district grants will be available next spring.
Many districts also receive donations from local businesses and nonprofit organizations to help provide resources for homeless students, such as transportation, tutoring, after-school programs, clothing, hygiene supplies and medical/dental care.
Estimates of homeless children and youth in Oregon used to be calculated using one-night count data provided by homeless shelters. Under the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law, school districts (rather than shelters) are responsible for counting the number of homeless students and reporting that information to the state. The state is required to file a report with the U.S. Department of Education.