The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, March 15, 2016 7:15 pm

Homeless students on the rise

Ron Shawgo | The Journal Gazette

Indiana’s homeless students increased dramatically in the years following the Great Recession, leaving thousands susceptible to educational challenges, according to a report released today.

For the 2013-14 school year, 16,233 Hoosier students were homeless, an 81 percent increase from five years earlier, statistics gathered by the Indiana Youth Institute show. The figures are for public schools only and are the most recent available.

"Anytime you see an increase like that, there’s certainly cause for concern to hope that as many of those students as possible are getting the services they need to try to enhance their educational outcomes," said Glenn Augustine, interim CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute.

The IYI used data provided by the Indiana Department of Education. School district-level numbers were not released.

All northeast Indiana counties had increases, some significant, between the 2008-09 and 2013-14 school years. Huntington County went from five to 61; Noble County from 10 to 85. 

Allen County recorded a 62 percent increase to 638 homeless students. 

As one of the state’s most populated, Allen ranks fourth in the number of homeless students. But per capita, 12 out of 1,000 students are homeless, giving the county a low state ranking.

Still, the numbers are old. 

Fort Wayne Community Schools alone provided services to 716 students who were experiencing homelessness last school year, district spokeswoman Krista Stockman said in an email response.

"Homelessness comes in many forms," Stockman said. "Some students are living in homeless shelters. Some are doubling up with other families. Some are transient and move from place to place looking for shelter."

Research shows homeless or highly mobile students suffer academic failures that can manifest themselves in anti-social behavior, Augustine said. 

"There’s also an increased risk for social and emotional problems. And some of the academic failures actually follow these children into adulthood." They are more likely to repeat a grade and to have multiple behavioral problems, he added

Statewide, 82 counties recorded more homeless students over the six years the Indiana Youth Institute’s report covers. Eight had fewer homeless and two counties were unchanged.

Rural Jennings County in southern Indiana had the highest rate, with 84 homeless students per 1,000 students, according to the report.

"When you look at the data you’ll see homelessness is everywhere. It’s in urban schools, it’s in suburban schools, it’s in rural schools," Augustine said. "So it really knows no geographic boundaries or population boundaries. The increase in homelessness and homeless students is everywhere."

But why, as the nation’s economy slowly improves?

"The economy isn’t improving for all," Stockman said. "It’s the same reason poverty rates continue to rise and use of food banks continue to rise. Also, we continue to get better at identifying students and making sure families know what resources are available."

At FWCS, the district’s homeless liaison coordinator makes sure students are signed up for free meals and textbooks and helps set up their transportation and other services, Stockman said. A clothing bank provides clothes, shoes, school supplies, book bags and hygiene products.

"Homeless students have the right to stay at their school of origin or the school whose attendance area they are in," Stockman said. "This is critical to provide stability in the child’s life and enables them to have a safe place to learn."

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