- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The number of Oregon students who were homeless during the past school year increased by almost 9 percent despite an improved economy.

Figures released Thursday by the state Department of Education show 20,524 students were homeless at some point during the 2014-15 academic year, a jump of more than 1,600 students from the year before. It’s the highest level since 2010-11, a time when the state was still crawling back from the Great Recession.

“For many of our families, the economic recovery has not yet become a reality,” said Dona Bolt, the Education Department’s homeless specialist. “Families are still looking for work, struggling to get by, and trying to provide a sense of stability to their children.”

The homeless classification doesn’t necessarily mean the child is sleeping in a shelter or on the streets.

The tag also applies to students who lack a fixed and regular nighttime residence, such as those who live in motels or bounce between the homes of friends and relatives. Most students classified as homeless are in that type of situation.

But there was a 23 percent increase in students classified as “unsheltered,” meaning more than 2,000 young people lived in a vehicle, tent, or other form of substandard housing at some point last school year.

Federal rules require school districts to perform an annual count of students without stable housing and hire a liaison to help them get to school and have the supplies needed to learn.

The count shows most homeless students were in 12th grade, reflecting their ability to make a choice to leave. First-graders, however, were the next-largest group, followed by 2nd graders.

As in previous surveys, most homeless were found in urban school districts such as Portland, Beaverton and Medford. Small rural districts such as Butte Falls, McKenzie, and Culver also have high percentages of homeless youth.

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