The number of homeless students in Oregon has reached an all-time high, and Curry County is no exception, according to a state Department of Education report released Thursday.
Statewide, better reporting is credited for some of the increase, along with rocketing home prices, limited rental options and insufficient pay parents receive also play heavily into the mix, the study indicates.
But in Curry County, children, youth and homeless advocates believe it’s more due to untenable home conditions, said Lea Sevey, executive director of Oasis Shelter Home in Gold Beach.
“It happens here,” she said. “Their home life is so bad, they’d rather than couch-surf or sleep in their car than be in their home. It’s reprehensible.”
Another reason is that there are increasingly fewer options for these kids, she said.
“They used to hang out at a friend’s house,” she said.
“Or sleep at the parents of a friends’ house, or over at grandma’s. Those options seem to be fewer. People are already doubling up. Money is so tight, having your child’s friend at your house is a huge (financial) burden.”
There might even be a little bit of fear on behalf of some, Sevey said, citing the teen in Roseburg who last week shot and killed his foster family.
Almost 200 children in Curry County are homeless, with 20 percent of the students in the Port Orford/Langlois school district, 11.3 percent in Gold Beach and spending their time in shelters, motels, on friends’ couches and on the streets.
Under federal rules, students are considered homeless not only when they live in homeless shelters or outdoors, but when they live in substandard housing, such as that without full plumbing, or are doubled up with friends or relatives because they can’t afford a place of their own.
The latest study of the status of homeless students shows that of the 199 homeless students in the county, 43 are from Port Orford — the third highest rate by percentage of school attendance in the state — 55 from the Gold Beach area and the remainder from the Brookings-Harbor area.
And they’re afraid to seek help, Sevey said.
“Because they’re not protected by society, they have a reasonable lack of belief that an agency could help them because they never have,” she said. “There’s a big barrier of distrust — with good reason. The system has failed them, so they’re not going to stick their neck out. The system hasn’t helped (them) before.”
Statewide, children living in homes other than one of their own represent 3.9 percent of all students. But the numbers are slowly on the rise, the statistics show.
Statewide, students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade who are homed in shelters has increased to 1,999, from 1,778 since the 2009-2010 school year when the surveys began. Those living in a shared-housing situation — 17,210 — have increased from 14,944 in the past seven years, and 1,124 are living in motels, about double the number in 2009.
There are 2,515 students in Oregon who have no place at all to go.
There are more senior students — 2,542 — in Oregon who are homeless; students in other grades are represented fairly evenly at between 1,500 and 1,700 apiece.
The state report says it is “likely” that an equal number of infants to 6-year-olds are also without a home.
Sevey said homeless advocates have become better at asking youth about their situation, as many will not admit they’re not living with one or both of their parents.
“Who wants to identify that way?” she said. “If you’re sleeping on a couch, you don’t necessarily think of yourself as homeless. It’s a complicated issue.”
Sevey encourages youth in these situations to contact the hotline this holiday season and get on the shelter’s Holiday Giving Program list.
“It’s a confidential conversation — they don’t even have to tell their real name — about what they need,” she said. “Do you need a tent? A tarp? A shower curtain or a backpack? We’ll get the item to them.”
The McKinney-Vento Act’s Education of Homeless Children and Youth Program, ensures that homeless children and youth are provided a free, appropriate public education, despite lack of a fixed place of residence or a supervising parent or guardian.
And Oregon received $502,000 for the 2016-17 school year; that money served 11 programs in 47 school districts, including the provision of homeless liaisons, transportation, clothing and school supplies.