Salem-Keizer hits seven-year high in number of homeless students

More Salem-area students were homeless last year, and the number living on the streets and without parents or guardians is also up.

State data released Thursday showed 1,164 Salem-Keizer students were considered homeless at some point during the 2018-19 school year, an increase of about 10% over the previous year.

That’s far more than the statewide increase of about 2%.

It’s not all bad news – some of the increase is likely because the Salem-Keizer School District is doing a better job reaching out to homeless students and getting them help, said Julie Conn-Johnson, the district’s homeless liaison.

That means the district also is discovering more students qualify as homeless.

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Students are considered homeless if they’re living “doubled up,” sharing an apartment or home with another family because their family can’t afford or find a place to live. They also can be considered homeless if they are living in a shelter, a hotel or in vehicles.

A lack of affordable housing is a factor leading to homelessness.

A strong real estate market means more homeowners are selling rental homes, Conn-Johnson said, sometimes leaving families without a place to go.

“Families are asked to move and there’s nowhere for them to move to and it’s really difficult for them to come up with full deposits,” she said.

The number of homeless students in the district is still climbing.

As of Nov. 15, Salem-Keizer was serving 800 homeless students, Conn-Johnson said. At the same time last year it served 674.

Statewide, 22,215 Oregon students were homeless at some point last school year.

In Salem, the number of teens living without a parent or guardian has increased.

“At times the older students, high school age, are being asked to either work and assist with families’ expenses or to move out,” Conn-Johnson said. Some leave the family so they can stay in school, she said.

A lack of foster care or other public options for homeless teens also contributes.

Homelessness has significant effects on student academics. Only half of Salem-Keizer seniors who were homeless at any time in high school graduated in 2018.

Salem-Keizer will receive about $35 million from the state next year to better educate struggling students. That money can be used for homeless students.

District employees are interviewing homeless families and distributing surveys in local shelters to figure out how that money could best help students, assistant superintendent Kraig Sproles said.

Previous coverage: Growing number of homeless Salem students poses transportation challenges

News tip? Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.