Skagit County Trends Newsletter

COUNTY HOMELESS STUDENT RATE BELOW STATE -

Homeless youth face very different challenges than a traditional student. It can be hard to worry about homework and school sports when finding food and a place to sleep are a constant concern. Add this to many of the issues that contribute to homelessness such as mental illness, physical disability, substance abuse, poverty, and response to domestic violence, you have a situation that makes it exceedingly difficult to attain a good education and prepare for adult life.

Taking a look at the McKinney-Vento Homeless Students indicator, we see that in Skagit County during the 2015-2016 school year, there were a total of 625 students who fit the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness. This is an increase from 522, or by 19.7% since the 2007-2008 school year. Although not offered in the graph itself but available in the "Download Data" section, the total number of homeless students in the state who fit into the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness was 39,671 during the 2015-2016 school year, increasing from 18,670, or by 112.5% since the 2007-2008 school year.

A consistent average of about 32 homeless students per 1,000 public school students over the last 5 years has put Skagit County's numbers below the rising state average. During the 2015-16 school year, Skagit County reported 32.5 homeless students per 1000 public school students, the same number as the previous year. While Skagit County hasn't changed much over the last half decade, the state has.

Washington State reported 36.4 homeless students per 1,000 public school students in 2015-16, 4.1 higher than Skagit County. This means that for the last 2 years, the state average has exceeded the county's, with 2014-15 posting 33.6 homeless students.

Burlington-Edison School District Special Programs Director Jeff Brown commented: "Only recently has Skagit County dropped below the state average of McKinney-Vento eligible students. Locally, we observed a significant growth of families without fixed, regular and/or adequate housing during the years, 2008-2011, immediately following the recession of 2007. As employment began to stabilize, many of our families have been able to secure housing."

This indicator also breaks homeless students into 4 categories which fall into the McKinney-Vento definition of youth homelessness. These categories are doubled-up, meaning students are sharing housing outside of their family, living in shelters, those that are unsheltered, and those living in motels.

Doubled up takes the majority of the share at 411 students reported, decreasing from 430 the previous year. It may be that doubled up takes the lion's share of youth homelessness due to people's empathy for children and young adults in extreme circumstances and their willingness to accommodate them. Doubled up has retained the largest

share during the entire 9 year series, increasing 30% from 315 homeless students since the beginning of the series in 2007-08.

Laurinda Shelton, McKinney-Vento & Foster Care Liaison with the Sedro-Woolley School District said community compassion combined with a shortage on appropriate housing is contributing to the large amount of doubled up homeless students.

"Parents and students are resourceful. I believe our community cares about their neighbors, friends & extended family and provides support in times of need. Often times, families don't consider themselves as homeless because they have been able to find a friend or family member that will allow them to stay in their house until they can save money for [housing expenses] or until they can find housing," said Shelton, "Many of our families qualify as McKinney-Vento because there is no affordable housing available."

Jeff Brown also cited a lack of appropriate housing as a large contributor to Skagit's homeless problem. "The severe decrease in permits issued to build single family and multifamily dwellings in Skagit County after the recession was staggering. At that time the Area Median Income (AMI) suggested that we would need over 2 times more rental units to meet the need in 2016. For households under 30% AMI, Skagit County would need almost 3 times more rental units. While we are beginning to see new construction in Burlington-Edison, which may make an impact on these numbers, the lack of affordable housing is clearly affecting our students. It is not uncommon for families to share a residence designed for a single family because neither family could afford to live independently."

The next largest category consists of students living in shelters, at 109 homeless students for the most recent school year, decreasing from 115 the prior year. Like the doubled up category, sheltered students has remained consistently the second largest, but only increasing 5% from 2007-08's.

Unsheltered homeless students and those that live in motels make up the smaller two parts of the total, with unsheltered usually being slightly larger. In the 2015-16 school year, the number of unsheltered students was 57, increasing from 39 in 2014-15. This put its share slightly larger than students living in motels, who numbered 48.

Students living unsheltered are less safe than those in the other three categories as they do not have access to a secure location and maybe forced to sleep in public areas. The number of unsheltered students has fluctuated greatly over the series, getting as low as 16 in 2009-10 and as high as 88 in 2013-14.

The causes of homelessness are diverse, with each family's circumstances differing, but a common factor in the Skagit area seems to be a lack of available and affordable housing.

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