District 51 tallies near-record number of homeless students
School District 51 had more kids enrolled in its homeless student program at the end of the 2010–11 school year than in all but two years since the program launched in 2002–03.
On the final day of school last month, 520 students were part of the REACH program, which stands for Resources, Education and Advocacy for Children who are Homeless. REACH enrollment was slightly higher, 527 and 534, respectively, at the end of the school years in 2004 and 2006. District 51 Prevention Coordinator Cathy Haller said she believes that was because the program was just getting its footing then and was reaching out to many parents and students.
“Economically, this was certainly our hardest year,” Haller said of 2011. “We have more people that never needed assistance before” ending up homeless.
Haller said the 2010–11 school year was in some ways harder than 2009–10, when 504 students received help from REACH, because unemployment has continued and stretched people’s resources even thinner.
The district is also seeing homelessness in schools and in parts of the valley that previously didn’t have as many economic problems.
“The economy is affecting a totally different group of people this year,” Haller said.
REACH helps students who are homeless with assistance including immediate enrollment in school and the free school lunch and breakfast program and free transportation to and from school.
Two-thirds of homeless students in the district are living in homes with people who are not in their immediate family, a situation known as “doubled up.” The remaining students live in a motel, in various places without their parents, in a homeless shelter or transitional housing, in substandard housing that may not have heat or running water or without housing at all in a car or a tent.
Haller said the percentage of students in each situation hasn’t changed much, except for the number of students living on their own, either couch surfing between friends’ houses, living in tents in the desert or finding some other way to make it on their own.
More than 10 percent of local homeless students lived this way in 2010–11.
“That’s pretty rare,” Haller said.