Kansas Reports Rise in Homeless Students

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State education officials in Kansas have stated that they’re dealing with about a thousand more homeless students last year than there were the year before.

According to the Kansas State Department of Education there are nearly 10,400 children with no home who attended public schools last year, reports the Associated Press, which includes an increase of 45% for Wichita public schools and a 20% increase for schools in Kansas City. The education department’s child homelessness program director, Tate Toedman, says it is taking a longer time for families to recover from homelessness.

“It’s a bigger struggle finding the jobs that pay enough, and then the affordable housing just isn’t there,” Toedman said.

“The very fact that schools are identifying students and these kids are enrolled in school is progress,” says Barbara Duffield, policy director at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

It is required by the federal government that schools track homeless children so they may receive support and take advantage of service programs which are in place to help them stay in school. The improvement in the reporting of homeless children and current economic factors are at least a part of the reason for the increased number of homeless children.

Since the US Department of Housing and Urban Development defines homelessness in a different way than schools, there is a large disparity between the 2,780 adults and children who are reported as homeless by the department and the schools’ reported 10,400 homeless students. HUD does not count families that move from one home to another, which accounts for about three-fourths of the 1.26 million children identified as homeless by US public schools last year. Individuals and families staying in shelters, on the streets, in cars, and similar circumstances are labeled homeless by HUD. Children living in other people’s homes or are in similar dysfunctional situations, says Duffield, are still without their own home.

“It’s not different than other kinds of homelessness,” she said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, you’re staying with your grandma, everybody’s warm, everybody’s comfortable.’ “

Homelessness is a trend that affects children’s ability to learn. In Kansas, the number of homeless children has tripled since before the recession, writes Celia Llopis-Jepson of The Topeka Capital-Journal. The US Department of Education, using information researched by the National Center for Homeless Education, found that less than half of homeless students are exhibiting proficiency in math and science, and slightly more than half are proficient in reading.

In 1990, schools began to require services which would provide homeless students easy access to education, such as buses that stop at homeless shelters, ease of enrollment for students without a home, and allowing enrollment for students with incomplete school records. Although the federal government offers some funding for these services, most of the money goes to districts with the largest numbers of homeless children.

Kansas City is also worried about the safety of homeless children after discovering that one group of homeless people who were living in a wooded area 500 feet from a park, 1,000 from two elementary schools, included five registered sex offenders. Lynn Horsley of The Kansas City Star, writes that city officials have asked charitable organizations not to feed the homeless near parks or schools. Since sex offenders are not allowed within a restricted area, serving them a meal would be considered knowingly aiding a sex offender and providing meals to a registered sex offender within a restricted zone might be a violation of the law. City spokesperson Chris Fernandez said the camp has now been dismantled and arrest warrants had been issued for the sex offenders.