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The number of homeless students in K-12 schools in Benton County has increased for the second year in a row.

According to an Oregon Department of Education news release this week, 290 students were homeless in the county during the 2015-16 school year.

The department said that the number of homeless students has grown for three straight years across the state, to more than 21,000 in 2015-16.

The department reported that in Corvallis alone had 253 homeless students in 2015-16, up from 220 in 2014-15 and 150 in 2013-14.

The 2015-16 numbers made up nearly 4 percent of the district’s student population, about half a percent of the total population more than in the previous year.

Chris Hawkins, family outreach coordinator for the district, said it's on pace to exceed the 2015-16 totals for homeless students.

“We had 50 to 75 (fewer homeless students) at this time last year,” she said.

Hawkins said the increase is due to a few factors:

• The district has gotten better at identifying homeless students.

• Some families move to Corvallis when they are homeless because of the services offered by the district.

• Area nonprofits and the continuing overall lack of affordable housing in Corvallis.

“Even though the economy is getting better, families have just not caught up,” she said.

Hawkins said the district’s support for homeless students is primarily provided by funding from the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation and with help from community partners. Their programs include:

• Providing gas vouchers so families can get kids to school and attend conferences.

• Offering after school and summer care through the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis.

• Giving clothing and shoes to students (often this is done with help from the Assistance League of Corvallis).

• Covering the costs of extracurricular activities.

• With help from the Corvallis Odd Fellows, giving homeless students a backpack full of food for the weekend.

The foundation provided the district with around $25,000 to support these programs last school year.

Hawkins said the biggest challenges facing the district as it tries to help homeless students include a lack of caseworkers to help families navigate the systems necessary to find housing. In addition, homeless students often have experienced serious trauma and are in need to mental health services.

Hawkins said people interested in supporting local homeless students could donate to the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation and earmark the funds for supporting homeless students. Contact the foundation at https://cpsfoundation.org or 541-757-5857.

She also said the district needs mentors to help those students; interested people can contact her at 541-757-435.

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Anthony Rimel can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net, 541-758-9526, or via Twitter @anthonyrimel.

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Education