The number of students who were homeless in Clatsop County grew to more than 320 during the last school year, figures released by the state Department of Education show.
Statewide, student homelessness was up for the fourth year in a row. More than 22,000 lacked “a regular and adequate nighttime residence,” nearly 4 percent of the state’s K-12 enrollment.
The homeless students reported in the county — 324 — increased from 287 in the 2015-16 school year and at least 210 in 2014-15.
“I think it’s a reflection of just the housing challenge statewide,” said Seaside Superintendent Sheila Roley, whose district has faced a doubling of student homelessness over the past few years. “Rents are high here now, probably influenced to some degree by how high they are in the valley. That’s a growing problem across the state, and we’re just part of that.”
More than 80 percent of all students reported as homeless in the county were living with others after the loss of housing because of economic hardship, domestic violence or similar reasons.
Another 10.5 percent were reported as unsheltered, a definition that includes living in cars, smaller trailers and other areas unsuitable for long-term housing.
Nearly 40 percent of the county’s homeless students were reported in the Warrenton-Hammond School District, with 125, nearly 12.5 percent of enrollment and the 12th-highest rate of any school district in the state.
Warrenton’s student homelessness was down slightly from 2015-16, but up more than one-third from 2014-15, the last school year in which the district recorded fewer than 100 students or less than 10 percent of its enrollment.
Despite having a significantly lower enrollment than Astoria and Seaside, Warrenton regularly reports the highest numbers and rates of student homelessness. The district includes more options for affordable housing and more lodgings considered substandard by federal guidelines, including RV parks and campsites, than in other cities.
“There are not a lot of really reasonable rents for housing,” said Mary Suever, a school counselor at Warrenton Grade School and the district’s homeless liaison.
The school district, nonprofits, faith and other groups regularly provide food, clothing, school supplies and other daily needs, Suever said, and families will even take in others living in dire situations such as cars.
“We try very hard to support all of our kids no matter what their living situation is,” Suever said.
Seaside School District reported 96 students as homeless last school year, more than 60 percent higher than the rate in 2015-16 and more than double the rate in 2014-15. The district surpassed Astoria’s 81 reported homeless students for the first time in at least several years, despite having 15 percent fewer students overall. Astoria experienced a small drop in homelessness, from 92 in 2015-16 to 81 last year.
Knappa’s count of homeless students went from six to 22 between 2015-16 and last school year. All the students were reported as sharing housing with others. Knappa Superintendent Paulette Johnson said there has been an increase of grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster parents and others taking care of them.
“We are also doing a good job of identifying more students through questioning on enrollment and identifying more students who really need services but may not tell us initially that they are homeless,” she said.