Nearly 500 students homeless
The number of homeless students in School District 51 schools reached 478 this month, with all but 11 of the district’s 41 schools seeing increases in their homeless populations from the start of 2010 to the beginning of 2011.
District 51 Prevention Coordinator Cathy Haller, who oversees the district’s Resources, Education and Advocacy for Children who are Homeless (REACH) program, said increased awareness of the program is part of the reason numbers have increased, but it’s not the only reason.
“We are definitely identifying more homeless students because there are more,” she said.
District 51 REACH Advocate Belinda Howery said some homeless people are moving to town, but Haller contends most of the homeless students new to the REACH list this year are people who have lived in the community before now.
“We’re seeing a huge increase in people accessing first-time services, which means to me it’s the economy,” she said.
High schools have been hit the hardest this year. The high school homeless population grew 36.5 percent from January 2010 to January 2011 with 131 students. Howery, who works specifically with ninth- through 12th-graders, said high school students had a tough time this school year if their parents struggled to feed the family in 2009–10 and continued to experience unemployment or poverty.
“Those homes can’t supply even the basic needs anymore,” Howery said. “There’s no place for these kids to stay. Our biggest population is couch surfers. Their friends may or may not even know they’re homeless.”
REACH provides access to community resources, immediate access to free school meals and, in some cases, transportation to and from school.
The district’s middle school population had the fewest homeless students last month, 94. That’s still an increase of a dozen students from the same month last year.
The elementary homeless population increased from 209 to 224 in January 2011 compared to January 2010. Another 17 students were added to the list before mid-February. Between January and mid-February, five students were added to the middle school homeless.