The Oregon Department of Education recently released updated student homeless numbers. For the 2016-17 school year, 22,541 students “lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence” which the federal government classifies as homeless. That represents 3.9 percent of the entire public K-12 student population in Oregon and is a 5.6% increase over the year before.
The ODE data indicates that the homeless student population is not only an issue in urban areas – nine of the ten districts with the highest rate of homeless students have enrollments of less than 250 students. While the higher number is due somewhat to increased awareness of reporting homeless student data, the press release states that lack of affordable housing and lack of family-wage jobs contribute to the problem.
In eastern Oregon, school districts with identified homeless students employ a variety of programs to address the issue. Districts often use federal Title I resources to identify and serve students. The InterMountain ESD supports its component districts with several initiatives. One is Wraparound Services, consisting of collaborative teams in counties dedicated to helping family’s access community resources. CARE Coordinators or system navigators, employed by the IMESD and Umatilla County and supported by GOBHI (Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc.), work in multiple school districts to connect students and families to existing support agencies.
IMESD’s Wellness Hubs are another resource helping students without stable homes receive some medical care. The Hubs are located in schools in Morrow, Umatilla and Union counties and services may include well care visits, immunizations, diagnosis and treatment of illness and injury and integrating dental, vision and mental healthcare. The IMESD currently employs five Hub nurses.
School Psychology and Behavioral Services are provided through the IMESD to school districts, as well. Students have access to psychologists in their school buildings who can help teachers and staff with mental health needs.
Dr. Mark Mulvihill, IMESD Superintendent, said, “We realize that hundreds of students are affected by homelessness in eastern Oregon. By braiding our services with other community agencies, we are striving to support students and families who do not have permanent, stable residences. But we can always do more.”