Homelessness in Oregon is a growing problem. A recent federal study found Oregon added more homeless people to its population than any other state.
We'll examine several aspects of homelessness in a new series, "No Place to Call Home." It will include stories and interviews, as well as discussions that you're invited to join on Think Out Loud.
We begin with the most vulnerable homeless population: children.
A recent survey of public schools across Oregon found a 14 percent increase in the homeless student population. About 90 of Oregon’s homeless school children attend a small, private school in Northeast Portland that specializes in teaching kids without stable shelter. OPB's Rob Manning reports.
Janeth is still adjusting to her first few weeks at the Community Transitional School. The petite nine year-old with a shy smile still thinks of the school she went to last year, East Portland’s Hartley Elementary, as “her school.”
Janeth: “It’s like, my school, it’s more bigger, the buses are bigger, and there’s a big playground.”
Like most of the students here, Janeth came to Community Transitional because it was a stable place to go, when her family lost their apartment.
Janeth: “We were in an apartment, and my uncle – my Mom’s brother, he lived with us, then he moved with my aunt and so we couldn’t pay for the apartment. We couldn’t pay the rent, so we had to move into a shelter.”
It's hard to tell how much kids here really know about why they're homeless. The story can be sketchy.
Adrian is one of Janeth’s classmates. Like Janeth, he’s nine, and new to school. His family lives in a motel room. But he believes that a new place is around the corner.
Adrian: “Yeah, we got an apartment, and we’re going to move over there – wait, I’m going to move there Monday. Monday.”
Along with that optimism, kids can have a remarkable ability to adjust. For instance, Janeth sees the bright side of moving from one church-run shelter to another.
Janeth: “I still think the shelter is, like, fun, because the church we go to - each week we go to a different church every week. The church where we are, there are games, and it’s very fun there. We played Guitar Hero, and I wasn’t good at the guitar, but I was good at the drums.”
There are fears, too. Adrian says he was scared when his parents’ couldn’t find a place right away.
Adrian: “I was thinking we weren’t going to find a home, but we did.”
Cheryl Bickle - the principal at Community Transitional School – is used to children talking about this kind of uncertainty.
Cheryl Bickle: “I always say ‘I bet you that must make you a little nervous, or a little scared’. And they’ll usually say ‘yes.’ And I know kids have a lot of stomach aches because they’re worried about things.”
But over time, those fears can subside. 13-year-old Terri has gone from living in shelters into transitional housing. She has this advice for other kid.
Terri: “It’s not really their job to worry about getting an apartment or a house, or a place to live. They can go to school, and trust the people and the kids that are going to the school. You just rely on your parents, to find you a place to live.”
Principal Cheryl Bickle says her kids do hold up their end: more than 90 percent of her students turn in their weekly homework on time.