Report: More than 20,000 Oregon students are homeless

by Melanie Davis
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Chris Thomas Oregon News Service   Salem, OR — Oregon schools face a growing challenge outside the classroom that affects children's ability to learn. More than 20,000 school-age Oregon children were homeless at some point during the past school year, a new report finds, an increase of 1,500 from the previous year. The number has doubled since 2004, according to the report from the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Every school district in Oregon now has homeless outreach coordinators who work to identify and assist these students. Although homelessness is more common, says Katey Townsend, who supervises the coordinators in Lincoln County, the term carries a stigma which is tough for children. "We work with kids just to say, ‘Hey, we're here for you. We understand you're in a transitional living situation. It's happening a lot out there. Let's get you some resources and some support so that you can stay in school,’†Townsend says. “And then hopefully also get out of that living situation, because kids need stability, and they need a home." Townsend says she is seeing families camping, living in cars, or staying in motels where they can pay rent weekly. The outreach program is always in need of volunteers, she says, from sorting donated clothing to tutoring. Affordable housing advocates in Oregon see the report as a challenge to the state to increase funding for the Emergency Housing Account, to keep more families in their homes as they recover from a job loss or other financial blow. That often requires just a few months of mortgage or rent assistance, says Martha McLennan, executive director of Northwest Housing Alternatives, but the need is outpacing the resources available. "The biggest source that we've had in the last few years was federal stimulus dollars,†she says. “That money is running out. In Clackamas County, we'll be done with that money by December." McLennan notes that the new report does not include at least 1,000 preschool-age children who also are homeless. By district, the report says, homeless students range from 2 percent of school enrollment in Salem-Keizer and Hillsboro to more than 10 percent in Medford. The report is online at