The homeless student population in Austin ISD increased in the 2014-15 school year, and two of the five schools with the most homeless students are in Southwest Austin.
AISD Project HELP, which stands for Homeless Education Learning Program, counted 2,642 students who were classified as homeless in the 2014-15 school year, an increase of 152 students compared with the previous school year.
Southwest Austin has some of the highest homeless student counts per school.
Akins High School had 83 homeless students, the most in an AISD school. Crockett High School had 60 homeless students, the fifth-largest number in the district.
“We are [investing in affordable housing] as a community, but the challenge is that we need to do more.”–Mandy De Mayo, HousingWorks Austin executive director
Project HELP Project Supervisor Rose Coleman said the increase in homeless students is because of the lack of affordable housing in Austin.Homelessness may occur when a family living paycheck-to-paycheck becomes burdened with a financial emergency, she added.
Coleman clarified that when students are identified as homeless, they are not only students who are living in on the street or in unsheltered conditions.
A recorded 2,078 of the 2,642 homeless students were living in “doubled-up” situations, meaning they were living in an apartment or home that had two or more families living inside the home.
“Research shows that the kiddos living in those [doubled-up] situations that are so substandard, overcrowded and temporary suffer the same ill effects as kids that are in homeless shelters because of the lack of privacy, food insecurity and unsanitary conditions,” Coleman said.
A student can also become homeless when he or she no longer has a parent or guardian, causing the child to temporarily move from home to home, or “couch surf,” Coleman said. A recorded 271 of the 2,642 homeless AISD students were in this category.
Coleman added that there may be more homeless students who are not accounted for because either the student or a parent has not notified Project HELP.
She added that it can be embarrassing for a family to acknowledge its financial hardship.
Project HELP offers support services to homeless students, including transportation, free lunches and school supplies. Coleman said a number of area organizations offer their assistance to Project HELP so that the organization can fulfill its services for families in Austin.
Hindu Charities for America is one nonprofit group that collaborates with AISD, Del Valle ISD and Manor ISD by buying and packing school supplies annually for the three districts.
Founder Harish Kotecha said the organization was able to raise $19,000 for school supplies in May for more than 1,000 homeless children. In August, the organization had volunteers pack the supplies.
HousingWorks Austin is helping to raise more awareness of homeless students and the lack of affordable housing in Austin.
“Affordability is hitting everyone across the [economic] spectrum, so it’s becoming an increasing issue,” Executive Director Mandy De Mayo said.
De Mayo said it is next to impossible for a student without a stable home to learn when he or she does not have a good night’s sleep, food to eat or time to do homework.
“And that’s why we’re so concerned about the increasing number of homeless students,” De Mayo said.
One long-term solution to deter the rising number of homeless students is to invest in affordable housing, De Mayo said.
“We are [investing in affordable housing] as a community, but the challenge is that we need to do more,” De Mayo said.