Number of homeless youth in Washington increases again

Number of homeless youth in Washington increases again

(Wash.) The number of students experiencing homelessness in Washington has increased for the ninth year in a row–jumping more than 3 percent from the 2015-16 school year to 2016-17 alone, according to new state data.

About one out of every 25 K-12 students is living in a hotel, a car, a shelter, with friends, or may be doubled up with another family. That means there is nearly one child in every classroom experiencing homelessness, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Homelessness has long been linked to higher absenteeism and lower student achievement rates. And among children who experience it, graduation rates also suffer. The four-year rate for students experiencing homelessness in the Class of 2017 was just below 54 percent, compared to the rate for all students, which was nearly 80 percent.

“Homelessness puts incredible strain on families,” Chris Reykdal, superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement. “The students might be staying somewhere unsafe. And they may not have the time or a consistent place to study.”

According to A Way Home Washington–an organization that aims to develop community-based partnerships to prevent and end youth homelessness in the state–homeless youth are at a higher risk of suffering significant mental health problems, including depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders.

Up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, and report having been rejected by their families, according to A Way Home. And up to 50 percent of homeless youth have been placed in foster care have come into contact with the juvenile justice system at some point in their lives.

State leaders also point to local community factors, such as a lack of affordable housing options, a reduction in services, or unemployment or under-employment as contributing factors.

Through the federal McKenney-Vento Act, which provides that homeless students be given the same access to their education as any other child, Washington typically receives about $1 million annually. Distributed through competitive grants, the money goes to districts with the greatest need, and can be used to help minimize transportation costs, expand or improve tutoring, instruction and enriched educational services, or provide supplies and other educational materials, or early childhood education programs.

And through the rest of the current school year, $850,000 is being awarded to 12 school districts through the State Homeless Student Stability Program to provide educational supports and resources for homeless youth.

The latest data show the largest increase in students experiencing homelessness was among those who are unsheltered, meaning they may be living in parks, abandoned buildings, cars, or on the streets. During the 2015-16 school year, there were 2,134 such students, but that number spiked in 2016-17, to 2,753 children–an increase of 29 percent in just one year.

Reykdal emphasized the importance of ensuring that schools are well equipped to serve their homeless student population, or are working with community organizations to provide these children with the resources they need.

“Students experiencing homelessness need a place that is stable, a place where they are supported and nurtured,” Reykdal said. “For some, that place is school.”

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