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Washington State has one of the highest homeless student populations in the US

More than 3 percent of the state’s total enrollment is experiencing homelessness

The Seattle Public Schools administration building.
javacolleen/Flickr

A new report by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH) found that Washington State’s homeless student population grew by nearly 30 percent between 2012 and 2015. While Washington’s percentage of homeless students grew by nearly a third, federal assistance increased by 8 percent.

ICPH found that 35,000 students in Washington State were experiencing homelessness during the 2014-2015 school year, up nearly 5,000 from the 2012-2013 school year.

Washington had the ninth-highest rate of homeless students in the country 2014-2015—and the next year, the Seattle Times reports, that number grew to almost 40,000. That implies even faster growth.

ICPH compared federal data from the 2012 and 2013 school year with data for the 2014 and 2015 school year next to U.S. Department of Education McKinney-Vento grants, which help provide funding for programs to help children and youth experiencing homelessness and their families.

The report noted that Seattle Public Schools (SPS), specifically, had more than 1,000 students experiencing homelessness during the 2014-2015 school year, using the guidelines outlined by the McKinney-Vento Act. Specifically, according to city data reported by the Seattle Times, the number is significantly higher: 3,000.

87 percent of SPS students experiencing homelessness are people of color, the South Seattle Emerald reported late last year.

That includes families who are sharing housing with others due to loss of their own; living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or campgrounds because of a lack of alternatives; inside the shelter system; abandoned; or waiting for foster care. It also includes children and families sleeping outside or somewhere not designed as “a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.”

The majority of students experiencing homelessness lived in cities—43 percent were enrolled in urban school districts—which ICPH notes is “proportional.” 73 percent lived in a suburban or urban area in 2015, compared to 79 percent of the general student population.

“Families in rural areas or small towns often have fewer shelters or services to turn to for assistance,” the report notes. 11 percent of the state’s homeless students came from rural areas.

Other compounding factors: 21 percent of homeless children in Washington had disabilities, compared to just 12 percent of the general student population. Limited English proficiency can make it difficult to access services, too—14 percent of homeless students had limited English proficiency, compared to 10 percent of the general student population.

Resources for Seattle students experiencing homelessness are available on the Seattle Public Schools’s website, in addition to a list of resources for families experiencing homelessness. Washington’s office of Superintendent for Public Instruction maintains a list of homeless student liaisons for each county.

A few programs outside McKinney-Vento funding have taken shape this year: A new city pilot program announced at the beginning of this school year pairs families at Bailey Gatzert Elementary, where around one-fifth of students experience homelessness, with stable housing. Schoolhouse Washington, a collaboration between area nonprofits, also announced efforts to fight student homelessness around the same time.