InvestigateWest is happy to announce the launch of its first collaboration with Patch, a network of online local news sites. A team of InvestigateWest reporters and photographers spent more than six months examining issues of family homelessness in Washington State. The resulting award-winning Generation Homeless project looked at family homelessness through the lens of young adults – one of the most under-recognized segments driving the surge in homeless families in Washington, as well as the impact of this trend on children and school systems around the state.Joining us in localizing this effort even further is Patch, a network of online local news sites. Patch reporters and editors dug even deeper at the local level to see how this disturbing trend is playing out in school communities throughout King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties.Edmonds Patch, for example, drilled down to see how an underfunded federal mandate to provide transportation for homeless students is affecting the school district’s budget.Enumclaw Patch looked at the difficulties schools face in tracking and identfying homeless familes in order to provide services.Kirkland Patch looked at what it’s like for kids to be homeless on the East Side.These and other stories to come this week demonstrate the power of linking investigative and community journalism. They take a big, nationwide issue, and show how it is hittng each of us, where we live.
Editor’s note: The following is an updated version of a story about homeless students in school districts throughout the state, including the most recent data collected by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. ..;.. For updated information on each district, see interactive map.For updated information on each district, see interactive map.By Carol SmithInvestigateWest School districts around the state are grappling with how to help growing populations of homeless students, even as budget cuts further slash their ability to meet their federal obligation to do so.Under the federal McKinney-Vento Act, school districts are required to identify and report homeless students and to guarantee those students transportation so they can stay at their original schools even if they have been forced to find emergency shelter outside the district. The districts are required to track how many students are living in motels, doubled up with relatives, in cars or in shelters.Being homeless can affect how children learn, can lead to depression, and can be misdiagnosed as learning disabilities, labels that stick with a child for years.
The truest victims of homelessness are young children, who have no control over the decisions that put them there, and no power to change their circumstances.The typical homeless families in the country are headed by young women in their 20s, typically with two children. Nearly half those kids are under age five.The consequences of homelessness can be devastating and long-lasting for young children. By age eight, one in three homeless children has a mental health problem that affects their functioning, said Karen Hudson, social worker with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a national expert on homeless children.More than three-quarters of homeless children under age five have developmental delays. And nearly 40 percent exhibit emotional and behavioral problems, she said. These early problems can set the stage for problems, including homelessness, later in life. Surveys have noted that more than one-quarter of homeless adults experienced homelessness when they were young.Children who lack stable housing face a host of challenges that stress their developing systems, including lack of sleep, hunger, fear, and increased levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which can wreak havoc on young brains.Sleep deprivation or disruption can make a child look and behave as though they have severe behavioral problems such as oppositional defiant disorder, said Dr. Ben Danielson, medical director of the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic of Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle.The symptoms that result from the stress of homelessness, can include anxiety, depression, extreme withdrawal, poor concentration or various forms of “acting out,” such as tantrums.“We see attachment disorders, big time,” said Danielson.Serious mental problems can go untreated because they are difficult to diagnose.“Depression can look a lot different in kids,” said Danielson. “A child might not say,