Number of homeless students still rising

The number of homeless students in Washington rose to 27,390 during the 2011-12 school year, according to a report released by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

That’s up 5.1 percent from 2010-11 and up nearly 46.7 percent from 2007-2008, the beginning of the Great Recession.

Students can be reported as homeless if they lack a fixed, regular and nighttime residence. The federal definition of homeless includes students who live in emergency or transitional shelters; motels, trailer parks and campgrounds, cars; and public or private places not ordinarily used as sleeping accommodations.

Families who “double up” and share housing with others due to a loss of their housing or economic hardship also are considered homeless.

In Thurston County, several districts have programs that help connect homeless families with resources. For example, Madison Elementary School in Olympia offers the “Welcome Room,” where homeless students can get school supplies, clothing and other support.

But resources are limited. Lack of shelter space continues to be a problem, according to Sarah Greenwell, liaison for the homeless with the Olympia School District.

“All the shelters are constantly at full capacity with people being turned away on a daily basis due to space issues,” she said.

Public school districts collect and report homeless numbers as part of the federal McKinney-Vento Act, which requires that homeless youths have the same access to free public education as other children. When feasible, students can remain in a district he or she was in before becoming homeless and is provided transportation to and from school.

The state receives about $950,000 in federal funding each year to help homeless students.