The number of homeless children in Washington’s public schools rose 12 percent between the school years ending in 2012 and 2013.
The total climbed to 30,609 students, exceeding the total enrollment of Tacoma’s school system, the state’s second largest district.
National data released this week by the U.S. Department of Education show an 8 percent increase for the same period, reaching a total of about 1.2 million children without a regular place to sleep at night.
Washington state education officials can’t say why Washington increased more than the nation (34 states and the District of Columbia report yearly figures) as a whole, but many factors contribute to homelessness, including changes in the availability of affordable housing, job opportunities and local social services.
National advocacy organizations tied the release of the national data this week to calls for legislative action to change federal housing policy.
Here’s the thing: most of those students counted as homeless by the U.S. Department of Education aren’t living under a bridge or sleeping on a park bench. Most of them double up with friends and relatives because they have nowhere of their own to sleep at night.
Almost 67 percent of Washington’s homeless kids doubled up, according to the latest available data, with another 24 percent are staying temporarily in hotels and motels.
Those kids are considered homeless according to the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, which defines homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”
Washington state receives about $950,000 a year under McKinney-Vento. The federal money helps pay for transportation and other assistance to help homeless children so they can stay in their home schools if they choose, regardless of where they find a temporary roof over their heads.
But doubling up or staying in motels doesn’t count as being homeless under the definition that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development uses, according to the advocacy groups, which include The First Focus Campaign for Children, The National Center for Homeless Education and The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.
They are pushing for federal legislation that would require HUD to use the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness so more families can qualify for housing assistance.