The recession’s effect on employment and housing has trickled down to Arizona’s students. As parents lose their jobs and homes, a growing number of students are now classified as homeless.
The number of homeless students increased 8 percent statewide from the 2006-07 school year to last school year, totaling 20,726 children, according to the Arizona Department of Education. Officials expect that segment of the student population to climb at least 10 percent this school year.
“We’re projecting the increase because the foreclosures have skyrocketed over the last year,” said Frank Migali, the department’s homeless-education coordinator. “People are having to move in with family members. We’re just seeing a whole new face of homelessness.”
The homeless problem is creating an extra financial burden on districts, which already face mounting budgetary challenges.
Some districts are forming partnerships with non-profit groups to help with basic needs.
They also say the number of homeless students is actually higher than what is reported to the state.
In the southwest Valley, the Agua Fria Union High School District’s homeless population more than doubled from the previous school year, with another semester still to go.
“We’ve got families who are losing jobs,” said Robyn Jacobs, homeless liaison for the district. “The foreclosures definitely don’t help.”
Agua Fria is teaming with Feed the Children, an international relief organization, to distribute almost 2,000 backpacks filled with school supplies, books and emergency food packages to homeless students throughout the Valley.
“We’re trying to reach as many children as possible,” said Erin Carlstrom, director of education programs for Feed the Children. “It’s connected with people beyond our wildest expectations. We just want to keep kids in school.”
Last week, a truck with boxes of food, books, supplies and backpacks arrived at the Agua Fria district bus yard in Avondale. Nearly 30 people from Paradise Valley Unified, Avondale, Litchfield, Roosevelt and Washington elementary-school districts waited to help unload the donations.
Feed the Children gives away 100,000 backpacks a year nationwide. This was its first stop in Arizona since the agency’s backpack program started three years ago.
“When our resources are tight, partnering with national organizations really helps because it brought in backpacks and school supplies for kids in Arizona,” Migali said.
Federal definition of child homelessness
There are 1.3 million homeless children in the U.S., according to Feed the Children.
Local educators note that homelessness has larger parameters than many normally consider. Federal legislation defines child homelessness by six standards:
• Sharing housing due to economic hardship or loss of housing.
• Living in motels, hotels or campgrounds due to lack of alternative accommodations.
• Living in emergency or transitional housing.
• Living in cars, public spaces, abandoned buildings or substandard housing.
• Primary nighttime residence is not ordinarily used as regular sleeping accommodations.
• Awaiting foster-care placement.