County rate of homeless schoolgoers still an issue

Medford is now home to third-largest population of such students in state

Jackson County continues to have one of the highest rates of homeless students in the state, according to figures released Wednesday by the Oregon Department of Education.

The Medford School District had the third-highest population of homeless students — 1,235 — in the state, with only the larger, urban districts of Portland and Beaverton registering higher numbers.

District Homeless Count K-12 2011-12 Enrollment Percentage Ranking in State Homeless 2010-11 % difference

Butte Falls 32 127 25.2 1st 40 -20

Prospect 35 253 13.8 5th 22 59

Rogue River 99 917 10.8 10th 103 -3.9

Medford 1,235 12,727 9.7 16th 1,341 -7.9

Phoenix-Talent 174 2,701 6.4 33rd 241 -27.8

Central Point 241 4,526 5.3 44th 190 26.8

Ashland 92 2,809 3.28 77th 99 -7

Eagle Point 82 4,112 2 169th 252 -67.5

Total 1,990 28,172 7 2,288 -13

"Our numbers have been consistently high for the last few years," said Mary Ferrell, director of the Maslow Project, a homeless youth outreach center in Medford.

From 2004 to 2010, Medford had the second-highest number of homeless students in the state, second only to Beaverton, a district with about three times the number of students.

The number of homeless students in Medford means that 9.7 percent, or nearly 1 in 10 students, lack a fixed, regular or adequate nighttime residence, a definition provided by the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act, which requires schools across the country to count homeless students.

Of the more than 1,200 homeless students in the Medford School District last year, at least 197 were living apart from their parents, and at least 108 were living completely unsheltered, including in a tent or car, according to Ferrell.

Medford's number of homeless students has gone down 8 percent, from 1,314 in the 2010-11 school year.

The homeless rate in all of Jackson County is down 13 percent from 2010-11, from 2,288 students to 1,990.

The rural district of Butte Falls, 21 miles northeast of Eagle Point, has the highest percentage of homeless students in the state with 25.2 percent, or 32 of the district's 127 students identified as homeless.

Other local districts ranking in the top 10 percentage-wise statewide were Prospect and Rogue River, with 13.8 percent and 10.8 percent of students, respectively.

In Jackson County, the largest decrease in homeless students came in Eagle Point, which identified 82 of its 4,112 students as homeless, a decrease of 67 percent since 2010-11.

Ferrell said the high local homeless rate is caused by a number of traditional factors, including chronic poverty, domestic violence and substance abuse.

"We happen to live in a community where we have a lot of unemployment. Housing costs can be unaffordable. Obviously, there are economic factors," Ferrell said.

Once a person becomes homeless, Ferrell said, it can be challenging to become permanently housed again.

"It's harder and harder to find your way out of homelessness," said Ferrell.

Statewide, there are 20,545 homeless students in 157 of the state's 197 districts, a number that has doubled over the past 10 years, according to ODE.

"These numbers are a sobering reminder of the very real impact our economic situation is having on our students and families," said Oregon Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton in a news release. "The recent recession hit many of our families hard, and far too many of our students don't have the security of a permanent home or a reliable next meal."

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or

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