The number of homeless students in Washington state increased 30 percent between 2011 and 2015, according to a study released Thursday.
Washington had the eighth-highest number of homeless students and the ninth-highest rate of student homelessness in the nation. During the 2014-15 school year, there were 3.3 homeless students for every 100 public school students in Washington, according to the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness study.
In 2014-15, there were more than 35,000 homeless students in Washington. In 2015-16, there were 39,671 homeless students, according to data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
“The numbers have been going up,” said OSPI Spokesman Nathan Olson. “We can’t point to any single statewide issue that is leading to the increase.”
Instead, he said, the increase was due to a number of local issues. As an example, he pointed to a shortage of affordable housing in Olympia several years ago. That led to an increase in homeless students. Increasing housing costs in Seattle, and on the Interstate 5 corridor in general, also contribute.
And while the study’s numbers are several years out of date, Brett Dodd, the Spokane Public Schools coordinator for special programs, believes the data is accurate. Dodd oversees the district’s Homeless Education and Resource Team program.
In Spokane, the number of homeless students peaked during the 2012-13 school year. There were 1,784 homeless students that year.
This school year, there were 1,389. Dodd said he believes the 2008 recession and subsequent economic fallout led to the large increase. Since 2012-13, there have been roughly 1,350 homeless student per year, Dodd said. Many families moved to Spokane to access social services during that recession, Dodd said.
“When you think of rural poverty, we’re kind of the center,” he said.
Within the state, Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane and Highline public schools had more than 1,000 homeless student apiece, according to the study.
Under the federal McKinney-Vento Act, a student is considered homeless if they lack a regular and adequate place to sleep at night. This figure includes students who sleep in shelters, motels, hotels or at someone else’s home. This definition is different from the definition used by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development.