They like to blend in.
They don’t advertise the challenges they face daily.
They are probably not going to stop you and tell you they don’t sleep in the same home every night.
The plight of homeless students locally, in Oregon and across the nation is one of those problems that all too often stays hidden in the shadows. That’s not just unfortunate. It’s tragic.
The problem was highlighted recently after new state statistics showed that in the La Grande School District more than 8 percent of the district’s total student population is considered homeless. Youth defined as homeless are those living in substandard conditions — including tents, trailers and housing without adequate plumbing or electricity. Unaccompanied youth — those who do not live with a parent or a legal guardian — are also considered homeless.
The state statistics showed that 202 students in the La Grande School District can be defined as homeless. Over time, La Grande’s percentage of homeless students has climbed. That even one student in a local school district is homeless should be startling news to readers, and more than 200 should give most more than a pause. That’s a lot of youth already struggling.
Those numbers should also be pondered carefully and hopefully spark questions. The most important query is why are there so many homeless children? The next question should be what are we, as a community, going to do about it? That question may be as difficult to answer as the first query. Let’s face it. We live in a conservative area where resilience and a pick-yourself up-by-the-bootstraps mentality is a way of life. We expect people to overcome their problems with grit and determination.
Yet youth just starting out in life shouldn’t have to awake every morning focused on where they will sleep that night.
Solving this problem isn’t going to be easy. But solve it we must. And we must resolve to decipher this specific puzzle in a methodical, transparent manner. That’s why we believe a forum of stakeholders — led by the La Grande School District and other key agencies — should convene as soon as possible and develop a comprehensive plan to address this issue. We understand that there are already challenges frontloaded into such an idea, but now is not the time to quibble over “what can’t be done” but instead to search for a “it can be done” method.
In the short-term, concerned residents can be part of the solution by donating items to the La Grande School District’s Youth in Transition program, which provides such items as clothing to homeless youth.