View map below of student homelessness by school district and watch Generation Homeless: Voices from the Street, a video produced for InvestigateWest.
WALLA WALLA - The last year has seen a rise in the number of homeless children attending Walla Walla schools.
The face of homelessness is also more diverse than people might realize. Youths or families who are living with friends or relatives, in shelters or motels are considered homeless and would qualify for resources offered through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
The law states that children who are homeless have the right to attend their home school, or the community school they last attended, as well as other assistance.
Brooke Bouchey, intervention specialist at Lincoln Alternative High School, said she was alarmed to see the number of homeless students at her school triple in one year.
This school year Bouchey has been working with 15 homeless teens, compared to five last year. She said the rise has been seen throughout the district.
According to statistics complied by InvestigateWest, there were close to 150 homeless students living in Walla Walla County during the 2008-09 school year. A majority of those youths, about 94, live in Walla Walla.
Bouchey said images of homeless people sleeping in parks or alleys don't tell the full story. There are cases of teens whose families move out of town and leave them in Walla Walla to make living arrangements on their own. Or others have been kicked out of their homes and find themselves on their own.
"Those are the kids that just kind of couch surf," she said. "There's really no stability for them at all."
Entire families living with relatives or friends is also common, as is living in temporary shelters.
Bouchey said the McKinney-Vento Act has worked for area youths and families because it gets needed resources to them.
"It's been huge," she said. Funds can go from helping youths acquire clothing they may not have or cover the cost of a deposit for a place to live.
With resources in place, the tough work becomes keeping kids engaged in school and helping them work through problems in their lives that may become obstacles to learning.
Bouchey said another challenge is identifying families and teens to be able to get them the resources they need. For some families, identifying as homeless is a step they are not ready to take, because of concerns about potentially losing their children, or because they are prideful of seeking handouts.
Mark Higgins, communications director for Walla Walla Public Schools, said one challenge of working with homeless youths is their ability to focus in school and be ready to learn, when conflict at home or other factors may be at play to limit that learning.
"You don't wind up homeless overnight, for the most part," Bouchey said. "Most of these kids have lived in poverty for their lives. With poverty come other added stresses in your home."
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VIDEO - Generation Homeless: Voices from the Street
Generation Homeless: Voices from the Street from Mike Kane on Vimeo.