PORTLAND, Ore. -- Over the 2016-2017 school year, 22,541 public school students met the federal definition of homelessness, according to numbers the Oregon Department of Education released this week.
Officials said that number has been rising steadily in Oregon for the last four years, as it has up and down the West Coast.
This year’s total marked a record high.
“While the numbers are heartbreaking, our resolve to make sure these students receive the best education possible is unfailing,” Acting Deputy Superintendent Colt Gill said in a statement. “Thanks to the hard work of liaisons at school districts and their partners in the communities, we can make the school environment as stable as possible for students who are dealing with difficult challenges outside the classroom.”
Beaverton School District reported the highest overall total in the state, with 1,522 homeless students. That number represents 3.73 percent of the overall student population.
Portland Public Schools had the second highest reported total, at 1,509 or 3.13 percent.
The district with the highest percentage of homeless students is Butte Falls School District in Jackson County. It's only 56 homeless students, but that represents 29.63% of the district’s total enrollment.
Officials said one likely contributing factor to the higher numbers is a growing resolve among districts to recognize and report homelessness among their students.
Directors at Portland’s Community Transitional School agree with that assumption.
“None of our students want to be homeless,” said principal Cheryl Bickle. “I feel like if we have a whole bunch of kids, we're doing our part to help them not become homeless when they're adults.”
Every student at the nearly 30-year-old nonprofit is or recently was homeless, and this year the school also hit a record high enrollment at 105.
Kids are referred there by social service agencies or other services, often because moving between shelters, motels and the streets can mean bouncing between school districts.
Coming to the Community Transitional School offers them a needed element of stability, Bickel said.
“Stressing to them that they have the capability within themselves to break the cycle that their family is in to have a different life,” she said.