By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

Local school districts teach some of the highest proportions of homeless students in the state, according to Oregon Department of Education (ODE) reports, and each district in Curry County has a staff member at least partially dedicated to ensuring homeless students get the help they need.

Districts help students gain employment, get shoes, clothes, food or snacks and often provide a safe place for studying after school.

Brookings-Harbor Schools identifies 37 students as homeless. The Central Curry District in Gold Beach teaches 47 homeless students — nearly 10 percent of its student population — and the Port Orford-Langlois School District faces a homeless population of nearly 20 percent of its student population.

Port Orford-Langlois was among the districts with the highest percentage of homeless students in the state under the McKinney-Vento Act, according to the ODE.

Under the McKinney-Vento Act, the federal act defining homelessness for students, homeless children and youth are those who lack a fixed regular and adequate nighttime residence. This includes students sharing a house belonging to someone other than their parents or legal guardian; those who are living in cars; those who are living in a public or private place not designed for or used as a regular sleeping accommodation; and those who are migratory.

Port Orford-Langlois (POL)

Pacific High School Principal Krista Nieraeth acts as the district’s McKinney-Vento coordinator and said, “I have never felt I couldn’t get something for a student in need.”

She said the community comes together to support all of the kids in the schools and called community support the district’s best asset.

As in other local districts, Nieraeth said homeless students were not “living in the streets,” but cited economic issues as causes of student homelessness. A lack of living-wage jobs and affordable housing causes families to double-up with grandparents or other relatives, she said, and this is the primary form of homelessness students face.

All three districts use Title I money to help homeless students. In POL, these funds pay for college admission and fees for college entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT, according to Nieraeth. The district also ensures transportation so all students can get to school.

Title I is the largest federal aid program for public schools in the U.S., according to government reports, and provides federal funds to schools with high percentages of low-income students.

The district has other money set aside to help as well, she said, money given from “the goodness of people’s hearts” and available to help families during an emergency.

The community also helps helps with secondary issues related to homelessness, Nieraeth said, and she cited snack packs and food provided by Oregon Coast Community Action (ORCCA), closets of donated clothes, the wellness center provided by Coast Community Health and aid from the Port Orford Christian Center.

The Lions Club and Common Ground help students in the area as well, according to Nieraeth.

“We can call a church or a family any time someone needs help,” she said.

Nieraeth noted Curry Community Health helped families sign up for the Oregon Health Plan, and multiple officials said the Lions provided eye screenings and glasses throughout the county.

Brookings-Harbor (BHSD)

While larger districts, such as neighboring Del Norte County, California, provide clothing, shoes, sleeping bags, transportation to school and job skills training for older students from one office, BHSD McKinney-Vento coordinator Angela Crum said smaller districts have to gather those necessities from different sources.

She said Brookings-Harbor homeless students, like those in POL, are usually doubled-up with relatives

The McKinney-Vento forms are done on-line at the beginning of each year as part of the students’ entrance packet, Crum said, so everything is submitted privately.

Crum trains teachers, staff and administrators on the act but said the counselors are generally the students’ point of contact.

“The counselors can walk students through the form,” she said, “and then notify agencies that can help.”

Crum credited Curry Community Health for helping families access the Oregon Health Plan and for providing the in-school health center, ORCCA for helping families with heating and housing costs and the Curry Homeless Coalition for helping families navigate other resources.

Title I money pays for transportation when needed so all students can get to school, she said. The money pays for all homeless students to eat breakfast and lunch for free, and the district has recently added free breakfast for all elementary students.

The district also has an extended school program that provides food three times a week, and after-school snacks and food are provided through the Brookings-Harbor Community Helpers Emergency Food Bank.

BHSD reports list 16 services available to homeless students including immediate enrollment, clothing and shoes, counseling, tutoring, fee waivers and referrals to community resources.

Public Information Officer Nancy Raskauskas-Coons said the district maintained its focus on helping students through its health and homeless committee.

Central Curry in Gold Beach (CC)

In Gold Beach, coordinator June Lemke said reasons for homelessness and states of homelessness differ case by case.

“These are not generally people on the streets,” she said. “We have older students who are couch-surfing, some who have been uninvited from their homes, but most are doubled-up.”

Many of their homeless belong to families who lived paycheck to paycheck, and then someone lost a job or had a health crisis, Lemke said.

The district’s goal is to access as many services as possible immediately and then work with the family to get other services, according to Lemke.

She said snack packs for the weekends are provided by the Snack Pack Club working with the Christian Food Bank.

She cited Curry Community Health for providing mental health services and health care sign-ups, Title I money such as that used in the other districts and an Oregon Education Association grant as offering the means to help homeless students.

Lemke said after-school tutoring, food and a safe place to be are provided by the ASCEND program offered at the Curry Public Library in Gold Beach.

Volunteers and staff run ASCEND (After School Commitment to Education and Development) in a partnership between the schools and the library.

ASCEND includes tutoring, enrichment, and an “array of programs and activities to broaden horizons and promote exploratory learning,” according to its literature. The program is held Monday through Friday and provides transportation from the middle school to the library.

Lemke said the district had the means to help all students access what they needed.

Reach Boyd C. Allen at ballen@currypilot.com

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