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Homeless Students

Volunteer Norma Davis organizes donations Tuesday at the At Risk Kids Project at Marshfield High School.

COOS COUNTY — Almost 22,000 Oregon students are homeless.

The Oregon Department of Education released its annual count of homeless youth in the school system earlier this month. According to a press release from Stable Homes for Oregon Families, of those 22,000 only 60 percent are on track to graduate compared to 85 percent of students in school overall.

A box of donations headed to Madison Elementary School sits Tuesday at the At Risk Kids Project at Marshfield High School.

“Since 2012, when ODE first started reporting this data, there has been a 20 percent increase in the number of homeless students,” read the release. “While there was a small dip statewide in that number, it comes after years of increases and things continue to get even worse in rural Oregon.”

The southern Oregon coast saw high homeless youth numbers in places like Port Orford and Reedsport, where those districts were reported to have up to 19 percent of their student population as being homeless.

In Coos County overall, the ODE report showed a total of 576 homeless students.

The At Risk Kids Project has its main office at the Coos Bay School District, where the ARK Project has counted a total of 371 kids that qualified as being homeless in its host district alone. That is lower than last year’s count, which was 401 homeless youth in the Coos Bay School District.

“This school year we changed our student questionnaire for families so we have a more accurate representation of who qualified as being homeless,” said Melinda Torres, ARK Program Manager and homeless liaison for the Coos Bay School District. “Also, we’re doing more advertisement and outreach to communities in Powers, Myrtle Point, Bandon and Coquille, so more people are using our services, but in the Coos Bay School District people are just coming here because of the consistent weather.”

She added that often transient families find their way to Coos Bay because they had good memories from this area and want their children to experience something similar.

However, the ARK’s Education Assistant Barbara Green pointed out that the project has already encountered one family displaced by the California fires.

“It’ll be interesting what the end of the year brings, especially with the fire in California,” she said.

In the press release, Deputy Director, Policy and Communications for Neighborhood Partnerships Alison McIntosh highlighted the fact that Oregon youth are bearing the brunt of the state’s housing crisis.

“No cause evictions and steep rent spikes are driving too many families out of their homes with no place to go,” she said in the release.

The area with the most homeless students, according to the ODE report, was Beaverton with almost 1,800 homeless youth, “which is just over four percent,” the release said. “Medford has the second highest number of homeless students in the state, even higher than more populated areas such as Portland, Salem and Eugene.”

The release pointed out, as did the ODE report, that homeless youth are “less than half as likely to meet or exceed standards in math, half as likely for science and dramatically less likely for English and language arts,” the release said. “They are also much less likely to attend school on a regular basis than their peers.”

It went on to call for lawmakers to take action in 2019 to create family protections and housing stability.

The timing of ODE’s report being released is close to the next nationwide Point in Time Count, which is in another two months, where homeless in every community are counted by local organizations for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

However, the PIT numbers from January of this year have not been released yet.

“PIT numbers haven’t been released because it’s only every other year that it is mandatory,” explained Tara Johnson, director at the Nancy Devereux Center. “It was mandatory of our county because of the Rural Oregon Continuum of Care, which the Oregon Coast Community Action is a participant with. ROCC oversees all funding for rural counties, so though there won’t be state numbers there should be for our area.”

The World reached out to ORCCA about the numbers. Maggie Sackrider, Essential Services Operations Director for ORCCA, admitted that she wasn’t aware of ROCC’s policy to release local data.

“I made a rookie mistake waiting for HUD to publish numbers when it was (their) year off,” she wrote in an email. “My plan is to do my own data analysis and publish it when we start advertising 2019 PIT.”

Johnson explained the importance of the PIT Count as being a way to keep track of local homeless numbers, as well as a way for local organizations to use the data to write grants.

“It conveys to the community what’s happening to the homeless population and that we are pushing them around from area to area,” she said. “It shows the migration of the homeless in Coos County.”

To use services at the ARK Project, the main office at the Harding Building in Coos Bay is open Monday through Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Its Madison Elementary office is open on Thursday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

To help the ARK Project serve local homeless youth and families, it is low on food, towels and blankets. Donations can be dropped off at the main office located at 755 South 7th St. in Coos Bay.

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.

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