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SH rate of student homelessness up slightly in 2014-15


February 9, 2016

Nearly 10 percent of Sweet Home School District students were considered homeless in 2014-15, up a tick from the previous school year, according to data released earlier this school year by the Oregon Department of Education.

According to the state, based on enrollment of 2,402 students, 9.66 percent, or 232 of Sweet Home’s students were considered homeless, up from 9.34 percent, or 222 students.

Under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Program, students are identified as homeless if they are living in a shelter, residing in a motel, sharing housing due to economic hardship or living in an unsheltered situation such as a vehicle, tent or other substandard housing. The number of children and youth in shelters has remained steady in recent years, a sign that capacity has been reached and new shelter beds are not available.

“It’s very difficult,” said Heidi Lewis, homeless liaison in Sweet Home. “A lot of times, they’re not able to make it to school.”

They may not have socks or a coat, or they don’t have heat, she said. Maybe they missed meals. All of it makes focusing on school work harder.

“The Sweet Home community does a great job at the grassroots level trying to provide support for homeless students,” said Business Manager Kevin Strong. “I appreciate the help we receive from churches, individuals, neighbors, service clubs and others. Locally, our community does a great job.”

“There’s lots of resources we have available through the School District,” Lewis said. They have access to the same things as all other students, transportation, supplies and free breakfast and free lunch at all grade levels.

The community provides the Kids Food Pak program each week to help feed children who would otherwise go hungry during weekends, Lewis said. She was able to win a grant from Weyerhaeuser and Wal-Mart to help pay for supplies that the district budget cannot provide.

The Elks, Kiwanis and Hope’s Closet all provide supplies to the district to help with children living in poverty.

If a student wants to participate in after-school activities or sports, the schools and staff are pretty good at making allowances for these students, Lewis said. “We try to find ways to make it happen.”

The schools are able to provide some basic supplies, like deodorant, socks and toothpaste, she said. Some of them are excited to have their own toothbrush when she gives them one.

They’re the “things they can’t afford when they’re living in poverty,” Lewis said.

“At the state level, I remain hopeful that someone will begin advocating for districts serving high percentages of homeless students,” Strong said. “We know that housing insecurity has a significant impact on student learning. However, the state school fund does not consider homelessness in its allocation formula.”

Changing the allocation formula to consider homelessness would bring Sweet Home closer to the state average, Strong said.

Around the state, other districts receive higher weighting for funding from programs like English language learning. That’s not something Sweet Home sees much. In the end, Sweet Home’s funding is below average.

If Sweet Home were at the state average for funding, it would receive another $500,000 per year, Strong said.

If the state funded for homeless students, the district could provide more resources, the things they need to live, go to school and focus on school and academic resources, said Supt. Keith Winslow. The district does it now, but it could do more.

“One of the things that is highly worthwhile is providing a check-in, check-out kind of thing, where we have individual staff touching base with them on a daily basis,” Winslow said.

District staff try to meet daily with homeless students, but they’re stretched thin, he said. More funding means the district could hire more staff, who could work more regularly with homeless students one on one.

Staff can be a resource and encouragement to the students, he said. Staff members can help with homework and help students with their behavior, their work habits.

“But they don’t get the daily contact that they need,” Winslow said, and the homeless students, who regularly test more poorly among school demographics, often don’t have the social skills and confidence to approach a teacher and ask for help.

Staff can help them develop skills like that, which will help them be more successful later, Winslow said. “That’s how we’d use it here, big time.”

Sweet Home’s rate of homeless students is more than twice that of Lebanon (4.57 percent, 199 students) and Albany (4.1 percent, 385 students). In Central Linn, including Brownsville and Halsey, 89 students, 13.69 percent, were considered homeless. Some 13.69 percent were homeless in Lincoln County, while Corvallis was 3.31 percent homeless, 220 students, according to state figures.

Sweet Home School District had the 18th highest homeless rate among students among 198 districts in Oregon. It was fifth among districts with an enrollment of at least 1,000, behind Reynolds, 11.54 percent; Central Point, 10.95 percent; Lincoln County; and Ontario, 10.77 percent.

Forty-one districts had no homeless students, while 50 had 5 percent or more listed as homeless.

Statewide 20,524 students in kindergarten through the 12th grade experienced homelessness, representing a 9-percent increase over the previous school year, 2013-14, counts not seen since the 2010-11 school year, when Sweet Home reached 10.3 percent.

The majority of the increase was in the number of students identified as “unsheltered,” meaning they live in vehicles, tents and other forms of substandard housing. The number of unsheltered students increased from 1,842 to 2,272.

“Despite an improving economy, many Oregon families are still struggling just to meet their most basic needs,” said Deputy Superintendent Salam Noor. “Far too many children don’t know where their next meal is coming from or where they will sleep at night. The significant increase in homeless youth – particularly in unsheltered youth – is deeply troubling. However, I know that this is an issue that our local communities, social services partners and schools are working to address. I am very proud of the good work done by our school district homeless liaisons to reach out to students and families and provide support during such a challenging time.”

The largest increases came from the numbers of children living in motels, a 16-percent increase, to 1,101, and the number of unsheltered youth, a 23-percent increase. The number of homeless students who are unaccompanied by parents or guardians also increased by 6.5 percent, to 3,321. The vast majority of homeless youth, both in Oregon and nationally, are living in doubled up housing due to economic hardship.

In Sweet Home, 15 students were listed as unaccompanied. Of the students, 198 were doubled up, 20 were unsheltered and nine lived in a motel.

Every Oregon school district employs a homeless liaison who identifies and provides services and support to students experiencing homelessness. These liaisons not only help keep students in school, but they also work with students and families to connect them with social services and other resources to help them get back on their feet.

Families needing support can access a list of district liaisons online at In addition, families can receive assistance with housing, food and other services – including contacts for their local district liaison – by calling Lewis at (541) 367-7114. Anyone who wishes to donate can contact Lewis.


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