South Eugene High School is a public school in Eugene, Oregon. (Kimberly Harris/Emerald)

Correction on Jan. 28, 2020: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that there were a total of 15,800 homeless people in Lane County, 2,558 of which were children. Those numbers reflect the total number of homeless people in Oregon, not Lane County specifically. The story has been updated to reflect the homeless population in Lane County as 2,165, according to the Point in Time report

Oregon K-12 schools saw a 2% increase in homeless students within the 2018 and 2019 school year, according to a survey from the Oregon Department of Education. Meanwhile, the number of homeless students dropped slightly in the Eugene and Springfield school districts.

The number of students experiencing homelessness in the Eugene and Springfield area declined by 6% and 8.5%, respectively. The Eugene School District’s percentage point decrease was 0.26% and the Springfield School District’s was 0.32%.

Deborah Dailey, the former homeless liaison for the Eugene School District, said in an email to the Daily Emerald that the decrease may not necessarily reflect a positive trend.  

“We had a significant drop in students identified as homeless at the high school level,” Dailey said. She suggested that the data may reflect the fact that fewer students enrolled in the 4J School District between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years.

According to the National Center for Homeless Education, schools offer students with “instability in their home lives” a positive environment, good life habits and “basics” like breakfast and lunch, and “as schools continue to increase their focus on producing college- and career-ready graduates, education also becomes an increasingly clear path out of poverty and homelessness for students. 

Jenna McCulley, the Community Engagement Officer for the Springfield School District, said, “The goal is to continue to support these students so that we can continue to decrease that number ultimately. 

According to a U.S. News article from February 2019, there has been a 70% increase in homeless students between kindergarten and 12th grade over the past decade. Following the 2016-2017 school year, 64% of homeless students graduated, which is 20% lower than “all students,” the article said.

The ODE’s “living situation code” recognizes four states of homelessness: in a shelter or transitional housing, unsheltered, doubled-up or sharing housing, and hotel/motel. 

The Department of Education’s survey showed that there were 811 homeless K-12 students in the Eugene School District, which is 4.72% of the student population. Of this group, 132 were in shelter, 537 were doubled-up with other families, 40 lived out of hotels or motels and 102 were unsheltered. 240 of those students were also listed as unaccompanied, meaning they were “not living with a parent or guardian,” the ODE told the Emerald.

In the Springfield School District, there were 412 students at a 3.8% enrollment rate, the survey showed. Of these individuals, 38 lived in shelters, 291 doubled-up with other families, 33 stayed in hotels/motels, 50 were unsheltered and 152 were unaccompanied.  

The ODE gathers information regarding homeless students from figures provided by school districts. As a result of the Federal McKinney-Vento Act, Oregon school districts each have at least one homeless student liaison that offers resources for “homeless families and unaccompanied youth to access and achieve in school,” the ODE website reads. 

“Each district’s Homeless Liaison is required to upload data each spring on homeless students in K-12 public schools and children ages 3-5 in public preschool programs,” according to the ODE’s Annual Data Collection document. “Homeless Liaisons can assist preschools with identification of eligible children and families, as well as provision of needed services.”

Dailey said that the McKinney-Vento Federal Program is focused on students’ “school rights and stability” as opposed to helping families and youth get housed permanently. “We have a good process for referring to agencies that are helping youth and families to be housed,” she said. “We also work closely with those agencies to keep informed of the availability of housing and current processes for removing barriers to housing.”

According to the 2019 Point In Time count, a survey the Lane County Human Services Division takes annually to assess the local homeless population, there are a total of 2,165 people experiencing homelessness in Lane County.