By BOB SMITH
Kitsap News Group
South Kitsap School District’s burgeoning student population is made up of children and young adults who come from all social strata — rich, middle class and poor. Add to that list those who are homeless.
In fact, a report issued Jan. 26 by the state Office of Public Instruction stated that as of the 2015-16 school year, 39,671 Washington students are without a permanent home. That number is an increase of 11.7 percent from 2014-15 and nearly double the 2008-09 count.
In the South Kitsap district, the report identified 192 homeless students as being part of the overall student population. That number is fairly evenly split with 99 females and 93 males counted. Caucasian students outnumbered their Hispanic/Latino counterparts, 112 to 33, with other races each trailing by single digits.
Those students who are homeless — living in motels, cars, outside or with friends or extended family — span the spectrum of academic capability. The report stated that of the 192 homeless students in South Kitsap, eight are enrolled in highly capable programs, 41 in special education and under 20 in English-as-a-second-language classes.
These numbers are collected annually as part of the federal McKinney-Vento Act, which provides that homeless students be given the same access to education as other students and cannot be separated from other students.
Brian Pickard, executive director of South Kitsap School District’s school and staff support, said the federal act enables students who are homeless to access assistance and services that provide food, appropriate educational programs, help to obtain records and documentation, allow for parental or guardian involvement in school activities, and transportation assistance.
“Counselors in the schools are well-versed about all the services out there,” Pickard said.
“So much of the time, these kids and their parents need assistance in finding social service resources in the community.”
Many times it is the student or a parent who will identify themselves to the school district as being homeless. Other times, agencies within the community will alert the district that a child needs help getting into school.
An important resource for homeless students is one that’s elementary: access to food. Pickard said the meals some students get at school are their only source of good, balanced nutrition.
“Sometimes there are challenges, obviously, but we’ll make connections with families and help get their kids enrolled in a school,” he said. “A lot of the time, they don’t have their birth certificates or shot records, those kinds of things, so we’ll set that up for them.”
With the recent community emphasis on the homelessness issue, Pickard said the school district’s outreach was perhaps prescient.
“Despite the economy getting better, there still are people living in poverty where both mother and father are working but still can’t make ends meet,” he said. “And it’s not enough to pay for housing.”
The school district official acknowledged that the homeless numbers are higher in the schools than before. Why is that?
“That’s the big question,” he said.
“It’s probably not one thing (that’s causing homelessness). There are multiple factors. But we’re doing a better job identifying those who need help and getting out information so we can support them.”