Student homelessness grows with Warrenton

Mark Jeffery, school superintendent in Warrenton, pointed to lower-income housing developments like Sunset Lake Resort & RV Park as part of why his school district has high rates of student homelessness.

The Warrenton-Hammond School District recorded more than half of Clatsop County’s 315 homeless students last school year.

The county saw a slight overall decrease in student homelessness from 324 in the 2016-17 school year, according to a recent state report, driven by a decline from 96 to 53 in Seaside.

Astoria saw a slight increase in homelessness, from 81 two years ago to 89 last year, while Knappa dropped from 22 to 13.

Warrenton, the region’s most affordable and fastest-growing housing market, recorded 160 homeless students last school year, up from 125 in 2016-17 and nearly 51 percent of the county’s total. With nearly 16 percent of enrolled students documented as homeless, Warrenton recorded the eighth-highest percentage of any school district in the state, up from the 12th-highest in last year’s report.

Homelessness has multiple definitions under federal law. More than 82 percent of homeless students in Clatsop County were sharing the housing of others because of economic or other hardships. Less than 6 percent, all in Astoria and Seaside, were living in hotels, motels or other temporary commercial housing because of economic hardship.

Nearly 10 percent — 31 students — were considered unsheltered, living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings and other substandard housing. All were in Warrenton, including in campgrounds such as KOA and Fort Stevens State Park.

Mark Jeffery, the school superintendent in Warrenton, recognizes the school district’s difficult demographics, with some of the most affordable places to live in the county.

“The trailer park down in Sunset Beach is part of our district, and most of the housing there falls under the definition of homeless,” he said. “I would assume some of this could be from KOA and the campground. I do know our buses stop at KOA on occasion.”

Despite the challenging circumstances, Warrenton students are some of the strongest academically in the county, regularly posting some of the highest test scores and graduation rates. The school district recorded a regular attendance rate of higher than 88 percent among homeless students last year, nearly 10 percent higher than the state’s attendance rate for the general population.

Jeffery credited the success to his district’s small size and targeted approach to keeping track of students, along with the proliferation of cellphones in eliminating some of the previous communication barriers.

“If we have a student who’s struggling — the cause for that struggle, while it’s worth noting — we get in there and work with them at the point of struggle,” he said.

Sheila Roley, the school superintendent in Seaside, couldn’t pinpoint a reason for the significant drop of homeless students in South County. She and other campus leaders cast doubt over the numbers, pointing out the difficulty in getting families to self-identify their living situations.

“I don’t believe that we have any less (homeless) students,” said Steven Sherren, principal of Broadway Middle School. “I think it may be we have less families self-identify or who … know what resources are available to them or how to access them.”

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