Tracking homeless school students in Lincoln County just got a bit more effective, according to Lincoln County School District Homeless Coordinator Katey Townsend. Townsend said Lincoln County’s homeless student count for the 2009-10 school year was 411 children, down slightly from the previous year, but adds she expects that count to quite possibly rise in the current year due to more homeless outreach workers in the schools. Last year there were three. This year there are five workers surveying school kids district-wide.
Townsend says the homeless outreach program is largely federal funded. Statewide figures on student homelessness were released this week, showing a wide range between districts. The highest rate, one in five, was tallied in a Medford area school district, the lowest was zero as indicated in select districts in a number of counties including Baker, Harney, Wheeler, Union and others. Taking averages among the larger metro areas, Beaverton was 4.2%, Medford 9.4%, Portland 2.3%, Salem-Keizer 2%, Bend-LePine 5.1%, Eugene 3.4%, Douglas 4.8% and Klamath Falls 12.9%.
A wide disparity among some districts, including Portland compared to its neighboring counties, has raised concern among school district administrators who are coming up with reasons why. They say some districts are not making the effort to accurately count the homeless children among them. Portland schools officials are quoted in the Portland Oregonian as saying “we need to do a better job. We know there is more homelessness among our students than a mere 2.3%.”
Here in Lincoln County, Katey Townsend says the district has strengthened their outreach to homeless students. Students qualify to be considered homeless if they “couch surf” night to night, live in a motel, car, friend’s house, abandoned building, the gamut. Lincoln County’s student homeless rate is estimated at around 8%, a slight drop from 2008-09. But again with a near doubling of homeless outreach workers, Townsend expects the 2010-11 year to bump up a bit.
Townsend says the district does more than count homeless children. She says the district has established three Family Literacy Resource Centers; one at Taft Elementary in south Lincoln City, another at Yaquina View School in Newport, and a third at Toledo’s Arcadia Elementary. A private, non-profit resource center in Waldport is located at the Seashore Family Resource Center on Bay Street near Waldport High School.
Townsend says the centers give families clothing, hygiene products, dinner plates, utensils, and books. Occasional “Read and Feed” sessions are also held at the centers in which children are read to as they enjoy a balanced hot meal. Families are also referred to community food banks which report they are keeping up (for now) thanks to the generosity of local residents. They say they are handing out food to more and more “average families” who have never been needy or homeless in their lives, until now.
Townsend says they always need more volunteers for their Family Literacy Resource Centers. Volunteers perform a variety of tasks from reading to children to helping parents access other resources in the community for health, housing, food, psychological counseling and family income and budgeting. She said baby-boomer retirees are prime candidates in that they have free time, for the most part, and are looking for ways to be more involved in their communities in a deeply meaningful way. Townsend says volunteers can help as much as they are comfortable with; from one hour a day on up. Those who would like more information on volunteering should call Katey Townsend at 541-265-4506.