Thursday, September 13, 2018

Schools in Washington state get creative to help homeless students find a ride to school

With class back in session, school districts across the nation struggle to make sure homeless students -- many of them rural -- can get to class. In suburban and rural Washington state, the number of homeless students doubled between 2012 and 2017, and school districts are tackling the problem.

Rural districts worry they don't have enough resources to ensure all students have a ride. They have cause to worry: "Last year, barely more than half the state’s homeless students graduated from high school on time, compared to 81 percent of their peers," Neal Morton and Scott Greenstone report for The Seattle Times.

Higher rental prices are part of the problem; in Washington, they're fueled by people priced out of Seattle and moving to ever-smaller cities and towns. As a consequence, the cheapest rents have gone up the most. That can push people into homelessness if their finances are dealt a sudden shock, Morton and Greenstone report.

Serving homeless students starts with identifying which families qualify for limited quantities of state and federal support. Some parents don't want to identify children as homeless, which is required to get the aid, some "as a matter of personal pride. Others fear their tenuous living situation might risk their children being taken away. And, more common now, immigrant families with mixed legal status hesitate to submit any official government forms," Morton and Greenstone report.

Some Washington schools have gotten creative to address the problem, offering funds to help pay for homeless parents' car repairs, or credit repair to help families qualify for an apartment rental. One county offers to send students to a host family to house the student. Jim Theofelis, who has worked with homeless Washington youth for more than 40 years, told the Times, "It's not schools' problem . . . It's all of our problem. But schools, given the resources, can be part of the solution."

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