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Housing Availability, Wages Behind Student Homelessness In Southern Oregon

Image of student walking on campus in foggy day.
Ales Jones via Unsplash

New data from the Oregon Department of Education shows the number of K-12 students experiencing homelessness in the state grew by about two percent last year. But homelessness looks different between rural and urban areas.

Southern Oregon’s list includes districts in Douglas County like Reedsport and Glendale School Districts and Port Orford-Langlois School District in Curry County. Around 20 percent of students enrolled in those districts struggle with homelessness, according to state data released Thursday.

Two of the biggest factors contributing to student homelessness in Southern Oregon are housing availability and wages, says Fallen Stewart, school-based program supervisor with the Maslow Project, a Jackson County non-profit that works with homeless youth. She says there are fewer resources for people in rural communities.

“When you get out into some of our more rural communities there’s definitely a difference in the numbers in that shelter beds aren’t available in some of those rural communities and folks are forced into some more disparate situations like camping or staying in rundown trailers without facilities,” Stewart says.

Categories of homelessness tracked in the state data include unsheltered youth, including those living in RVs, cars, and substandard housing; students living in motels; those who are living doubled-up with other families; and unaccompanied youth, including those who are abandoned or who ran away from home.

School districts have liaisons who use screening questions to help identify homeless students and connect them with services. State homeless data came from liaison student evaluations.

“Roseburg has been hit very hard economically,” says Dona Bolt, state coordinator for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Program at the Oregon Department of Education. Bolt helps train school district liaisons.

The statewide growth in homelessness corresponds to a general population increase in Oregon, according to Bolt, but she says Oregon is one of several western states including Washington and California experiencing increases in unsheltered homelessness.

According to Stewart with the Maslow Project, advocating for more affordable housing is their first priority. The homeless numbers in the Rogue Valley are similar to what they’ve seen in past years but, she says, they’re likely an undercount.

“We know that for every homeless student that we do identify, there are several that go unidentified.”

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.