Hermiston School District officials reported last week the district has had a slight increase in homeless students last year from the 2011-12 school year.

The district reported 46 students were homeless during the 2012-13 school year, up from the 33 students in 2011-12. This year, the district has already identified 39 homeless students for the 2013-14 school year.

Despite the increase, Hermiston’s student homeless population, which is less than 1 percent of the overall student population, is still less than the statewide average of 3.2 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Last year’s numbers are also lower than the district high of 74 students during the 2010-11 school year.

Deputy Superintendent Wade Smith said to help struggling students, the district utilizes the federally mandated McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Program to provide homeless students a number of academic and other supports to ensure they have the same educational opportunities as any other student.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Program defines homelessness as minors lacking a fixed, regular and adequate night-time residence.

This includes children who are living in other people’s houses because of loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason; living in motels, hotels, trailer parks or camping grounds because they don’t have alternative adequate accommodations; living in emergency or transitional shelters; abandoned in hospitals; awaiting foster care placement; have a primary night-time residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodations; are living in cars, parks, public space, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations or similar settings; or are migrant children and youth who qualify as homeless because they are living in circumstances described above.

“(The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Program) lays out specific criteria which schools are supposed to address both in the identification and who is considered to be homeless,” Smith said.

“Our approach is to ensure that homeless students have the same or equal access to all educational activities that non-homeless students would have.”

Smith said the district tries to help students as much as it can, which could include transporting students from their temporary housing arrangements to school.

“They may go to live with their grandma and grandpa because they got evicted — what we call doubling up with other family members,” he said. “They may live a few weeks with them and then could jump over to other family or friends in Stanfield.”

Smith said, within reason, the district will transport the students to and from their new location to their school. He said the district buses students as far as Umatilla, Irrigon and even Boardman.

“These kids have so much trauma in their life ... We want to try to provide them stability in their education.”

He said the district will also pay for students’ various fees, such as Associated Student Body fees, lab fees and more, and those students also qualify for free subsidized breakfast and lunch.

Homeless students also qualify for summer school and any other similar programs and activities to ensure their learning and educational needs are met.

Smith said homeless students often have a harder time focusing and keeping on top of school work because they are worried about where they are going to sleep at night or whether they are going to eat.

He said the district tries to track those students to make sure they don’t slip through the cracks.

“But I have got to be honest, sometimes it is challenging,” he said.

To make sure students don’t slip through the educational cracks, Smith said teachers and school counselors are trained to identify signs that students are struggling.

He said many times, students will open up to their teachers about their housing arrangements or living arrangements. The student is then referred to the counselor, who can sit down with the student to talk to he or she about the situation. The counselor will then try to determine the best course of action for how to help that student and family.

Smith said the district can’t provide housing for students and their families, but officials do provide information on where families can receive help.

“We at least have a great network on how to access opportunities to improve the life situation,” he said.

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