Monday, August 31, 2015

More than 1.2 million U.S. students are homeless; rural areas seeing an increase in homelessness

The number of homeless students in the U.S. reached an all-time high of 1,258,182 during the 2012-13 school year, up 8 percent from the previous year and up 85 percent since the 2006-07 school year, Allie Bidwell reported in September 2014 for U.S. News & World Report. Of those students, 75,940 live on their own. It's not just an urban problem. Rural homelessness has become an epidemic, according to an interactive map with state-level data.

Kentucky has the highest rate of rural homeless students, with more than 30,000 total homeless students, or 5 percent of the state's 685,167 students, Beth Musgrave reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. New York has the second highest rate, at 4.85 percent, followed by California, 4.18 percent; Alabama, 4 percent; New Mexico, 3.45 percent; Oklahoma, 3.39 percent; and Oregon, 3.36 percent. (The number of rural homeless in Kentucky peaked at 35,000 during the 2011-12 school year but is down to around 30,000 now)
The U.S. Department of Education considers a child homeless "if they are living in a shelter, motel or campground, car, outside, or with another family member due to loss of housing or economic hardship," Musgrave writes. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development "does not include children who are 'couch surfing' with friends and family because their parents can't keep stable housing. Education officials do. That means the 'official' homeless count leaves most of these kids out."

"The number of homeless kids in Kentucky schools has nearly doubled in less than six years," Musgrave writes. In Eastern Kentucky—where many impoverished counties have struggled with the loss of coal jobs—homeless students are especially high. The homeless rate in Harlan County is 26.21 percent, Knott County is 24.87 percent, Rowan County, 24.38 percent; Lee County, 20.83 percent; and Lawrence County, 20.12 percent.

Kentucky Department of Education officials say the greatest reason for the increase in homeless is better identification techniques, Musgrave writes. Other factors are a depressed economy, Kentucky's high rate of drug addiction and limited shelter options.
While homeless rates are up, funding is down, Musgrave writes. "Federal funding for homeless students in Kentucky has remained flat for the past five years at about $1 million, data from the state Department of Education shows. Only 17 of 172 Kentucky school systems receive the funding. But by law, school systems are required to provide services to homeless children, whether the districts receive the grant or not."

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