Corvallis School Board members discussed potentially opening a school gym as a nighttime shelter to families of homeless district students or allocating district funds to pay for these families to stay in local hotels.
The discussion followed a staff report about homelessness in the district at the board’s meeting Thursday night. Staff presented figures to the board showing that last school year there were 323 homeless students in the district, 73 of whom were completely unsheltered (most were ‘doubled up’ with friends or family, 41 were in local shelters, and 7 were staying in hotels).
Board Chair Vince Adams said it is completely unacceptable that 23 percent of homeless students were out in tents in winter. Already this year the district has identified 164 students as experiencing homelessness.
“I know our budgets, and we’re not in the business of housing kiddos, but maybe we should be,” Adams said. “Nothing is off the table.”
Adams, who is running for Benton County Commissioner, suggested that if the $200 million facilities bond going to voters this May passes, the district will be retiring modular classroom buildings that could be repurposed for housing.
Sami Al-Abdrabbuh, a board member, said in a natural disaster, schools would open their doors to shelter members of the community and homelessness was a comparable ongoing disaster.
“(We have) 73 unsheltered children,” he said. “Is that an emergency that would cause us to open up our gym?”
Terese Jones, also on the board, suggested the staff bring the board an idea of how much it would cost to negotiate rates with local hotels to house homeless families.
She added that the board also needed to put political pressure on the state and city governments to do more to address homelessness among children.
Judy Ball, a board member, said many of the comments she sees people make about homelessness at Corvallis City Council meetings are people complaining about scruffy homeless men, but few people show up to advocate for homeless kids. The board, she said, should show up in force and make themselves heard.
Superintendent Ryan Noss said staff would discuss potential actions the district could take to house unsheltered students and their families and return to the board with some ideas.
“We will do something,” said Adams as the conversation ended. “We don’t know what it is, but we will do something.”