Homeless students still a problem in Kent and Tahoma school districts

The Tahoma and Kent School Districts have seen different variations of homeless students in the past few years. The Kent School District has seen an increase of homeless students, according to Rona Popp, the Kent School District’s director of Categorical Programs Student and Family Support Services. While the Tahoma School District has seen a decrease, according to Kevin Patterson, director of communications for the Tahoma School District.

The Kent School District’s homeless population increased 5 percent in the 2015-2016 school year. Currently, the school district has 340 students who are eligible for homeless services, Popp said.

The school district has added two different mini grants to help with homeless. One of the grants is to address student/family needs before they become homeless. The grant is funded through Best Starts for Kids and they are partnering with Kent Youth and Family Services, Popp said.

The other grant is smaller and is funded by the state, called the Stability Grant. The grant is to help address the needs of the district’s unaccompanied youth by partnering up with Communities in Schools to support an additional 20 hours a week of mentor/case management at the secondary level for the unaccompanied youth.

Plenty of events and coordination go on throughout the year to help the homeless students, Popp said. The district leadership is part of the KentHOPE board which helps them learn from others. They coordinate with resources in the community to assist in guiding the cases to address the needs of the students. The Poverty Simulation Workshop is one resource along with fundraisers and coordination with faith based community groups and shelters. Those are all part of the ongoing support provided on a case by case basis to meet the daily needs of the homeless students in the Kent School District, Popp said.

The Tahoma School District has a significantly smaller homeless student population. In the last five years, the population of homeless students has significantly decreased from 68 homeless students in the 2012-2013 school year (five unsheltered, eight sheltered, 50 doubled up, four awaiting foster care and one at a campground) to 39 in the 2016-2017 school year so far (zero unsheltered, one sheltered, two in a hotel/motel, 34 doubled up and two awaiting foster care), Patterson, said.

Many resources are available for homeless youth and their families throughout the cities. The hope is to decrease the number of homeless youth in the school districts. All together, there are 32,539 homeless students in the state of Washington.

Homeless students are helped by the school districts along with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, who oversees the federal McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program, according to the OSPI website.

The school districts are helped through federal funding to support school district programs that serve the homeless students. The program also provides training, technical assistance and monitoring. Washington receives almost a $1 million in funding each year from the U.S. Department of Education, which supports the McKinney-Vento program.