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Students Without Shelter: More than 23,000 Oregon students qualify as homeless

EUGENE, Ore. - For the third consecutive year, the homeless student population in Oregon is up, according to the latest report from the Oregon Department of Education.

The education department's latest report shows more than 23,000 students statewide qualify as homeless. Those numbers now surpass homeless student numbers during the recession.

Five-year-old Ian is like any kid his age. He loves playing games especially Ping-Pong with his dad. But Ian and his dad, Chris Orlander share a special bond.

"I'm not allowed out of his eye sight," said Chris Orlander.

Chris and Ian sleep next to each other most every night and like thousands of students in Oregon, Ian is homeless.

"The most difficult part is knowing that my child is homeless," said Chris.

Chris is a disabled single father. He was a former timber worker from Douglas County, but he moved to Lane County when he was left unemployed and began going blind.

Chris said he found more support in Lane County for the homeless community.

"Single dads out there, you know, that get in a pinch. You know, there's really no help in Douglas County,” said Chris.

Chris and Ian now have a roof over their heads at various shelters a week or two at a time.

"It means a lot, especially coming from a ripped up tent, you know, that's filling full of water every time it rains,” said Orlander.

Community programs like First Place Shelter help homeless families like the Orlanders year round, but this year more than ever.

The statewide increase in homeless students is due to several factors. The Oregon Department of Education said the chief reason is a lack of affordable housing.

"A lot of our kids are living out of cars or even sometimes on the streets,” said First Place night shelter coordinator, Becky Beck.

Beck said she is in constant contact with homeless liaisons at school districts to help kids keep the only constant in their life school.

"I believe in them from the moment I meet them,” said Eugene 4J School District Mckinney Vento Homeless Liaison, Deborah Dailey. She said her main job is to keep homeless students in school.

Dailey is based at Edison Elementary in south Eugene.

She said a lot of the time she sees situations where families are ready to be housed

"They have a voucher to move in. They have their deposits. They're both working; maybe it's a two-parent family. They're both working, but they cannot find a place to move into.”

The Oregon Education Department defines homeless students as those without consistent housing. But that includes those students who double up on housing with a friend or different family member, live on the streets, in a motel, or in a shelter.

Lane County has more than 2,000 homeless students counted for this year. Edison Elementary School, counted about 40 just this month."

In a neighborhood full of upscale housing, Edison Elementary School Principal Tom Horn said it's difficult to see the reality of homeless students.

"Edison's a representation of a larger demographic shift in the state of Oregon," said Horn.

This year, Oregon received more than $600,000 in federal funding through the Mckinney Vento Act. The funds help cover support services for homeless students with support through tutoring, supplies, and transportation.

It’s an effort to help homeless students attend and stay at the same school regardless of their living situation.

Horn says a sense of stability is important for all students, but it's critical for homeless students to succeed in school.

RELATED | St. Vincent de Paul purchases building for new homeless teen shelter

“Not only just a school, a school district but as a city to come together to really wrestle with the issue of homelessness on a larger scale,” said Horn.

So kids like Ian can get back to their favorite school exercise: like writing his name.

At least for now the Orlanders are feeling grateful.

"If I'm able to get back on my feet and get some money rolling. I'm going to figure out something where I can give back to, to my community, my people out here,” said Chris.

School districts with the highest percentage of homeless students are in rural areas and span along the I-5 corridor.

In fact, Chris says he's met homeless families who have traveled to Oregon from across the nation.

Find out more about the growing problem of student homelessness in Oregon #LiveonKMTR Monday, Feb. 20 at 6:30 p.m. and 11 p.m.

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