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Medford's second in state's homeless student count

Since he moved out of his mother's house to be on his own two years ago, 17-year-old Fabian Picazzo has lived in various places, from his brother's trailer to a soft piece of earth under a bush in downtown Medford.

Yet as a general equivalency diploma recipient who hasn't been enrolled in a public school for more than a year, Picazzo is one of an unknown number of homeless teens who don't make the state's annual homeless student count, which was released Wednesday.

For the sixth consecutive year, the Medford School District ranked second in the state in the number of homeless elementary and secondary students, but that number doesn't reflect homeless children too young for school nor homeless teens who weren't enrolled in school sometime during the 2009-2010 school year, according to the homeless student report.

The Medford School District reported 1,139 homeless students last school year, about 9.4 percent of its 12,062 overall student population. That's an increase of 26 students from the previous year.

Medford trailed only the Beaverton School District, which logged 1,580 homeless students out of its 37,950 student population (about 4.2 percent).

The federal government defines homeless students as those who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. A homeless family could live in an emergency shelter, share housing with others because of loss of housing or economic hardship, stay at motels, or live in cars, parks, public places, tents, trailers or other similar settings.

Some 19,040, or 3.4 percent, of 559,062 students statewide were reported as homeless last year. That was an increase of about 5.5 percent.

Other Jackson County school districts also reported increases.

The homeless student count increased from 62 to 84 in the Ashland School District, from 21 to 36 in Butte Falls, from 215 to 278 in Eagle Point, from 47 to 97 in Phoenix-Talent, and from 83 to 87 in Rogue River.

Central Point and Prospect's counts decreased from 138 to 121 and from 17 to 10, respectively.

While the number of homeless students increased slightly in most districts, the Maslow Project in downtown Medford, which provides emergency assistance to homeless school-age children through age 21, saw their walk-in contacts with clients more than double between last summer and this summer, from 225 in August 2009 to about 500 in August 2010, according to Aubrey Sharp, a Maslow caseworker. Maslow sees some of the youths that aren't reported because they're dropouts or GED recipients, such as Picazzo.

"It shows me we're either undercounting or the problem is growing," said Maslow Director Mary Ferrell. "It's not just people who are homeless; it's people who are at risk of becoming homeless, and they're one rent check away from being homeless. We are seeing more and more of that because of the economy. I see the potential to balloon on us."

Those at risk of homelessness also are reflected in other statistics such as the number of students who qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program. In the Medford district, more than 52 percent of students qualify for the program, according to Rich Miles, the district's elementary education director.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

Homeless Student State Totals 09 10

Source: Oregon Department of Education