The Oregon Department of Education has released new numbers this morning showing a 14% increase in homeless schoolchildren across the state. A total of 18,000 schoolchildren are now homeless, up from 15,851 last year. That's up from 8,143 in 2003-4. "Over the last couple of years we've seen rental home prices continue to rise, and incomes just aren't going up at the same level," says Elisa Aguilera, co-director of the Community Alliance of Tenants. "In the last year, we're seeing more and more families doubling or tripling up in apartments or homes. Latino children in particular and African Americans are having high dropout rates in high school, and one of the key things in this is the lack of stable housing. People are having to remove their kids from school districts as they get kicked out of the homes."
"Today’s numbers show that Oregon’s political leadership continues to largely ignore the plight of those facing homelessness in our society," says the Reverend Chuck Currie—an outspoken homeless activist in Portland. "Over 18,000 homeless children in our schools is evidence of that."
The state is required to track these numbers as part of the No Child Left Behind act.
Aguilera says the CAT is getting more and more calls from families seeking affordable housing. "Waitlists are months, if not years, in order to get into affordable housing," she says. "So investing in housing for hard working families is really one way to prevent child homelessness." "Having to choose between having food, medicine or your rent is really difficult and we're putting a lot of families in those conditions."
Aguilera says the city's cuts to its Bureau of Development services, which have included housing inspectors, means that vulnerable tenants have less allies in the fight against unresponsive landlords. "BDS had 13 inspectors about six months ago, now they have three, so it's going to be harder for families to maintain or even attain safe housing standards," she says.
Update, 2:29 City Commissioner Randy Leonard, who is in charge of BDS, writes:
BDS has been impacted by an unprecedented drop in revenue that has resulted in the reduction of nearly 200 positions which includes 149 real layoffs. That, of course, does affect our ability to deliver services in the way we had before building permit revenue dropped dramatically due to the near halt of activity in construction of houses and commercial properties in Portland.
As the Commission in Charge of the Fire Bureau as well as BDS, I have asked the Fire Marshall to take on more responsibility for derelict properties to avoid exactly what you have reported on your blog.
Back to original post:
"The numbers demonstrate that we have an inherent slough in the housing delivery system in this country and in Oregon," says Michael Anderson, executive director of the Oregon Opportunity Network. "Many people can't find the balance between working hard, having a family, and putting a roof over their heads."
"As a society, we must judge ourselves on the opportunities we provide for schoolchildren," Anderson continues. "And if we're in a society that is jeopardizing the future for those schoolchildren, well, we should judge ourselves harshly."