Homelessness jumps among CPS students

The news: A March study by the National Center on Family Homelessness found that one in 50 American children was homeless prior to the current economic crisis.

Behind the news: As of February, 11,143 Chicago Public School students–” roughly 2.7 percent of the student body–”were classified as homeless during the 2008-2009 academic year, according to tracking data from the district’s homeless education program.

The figure is an 18.3 percent increase from 9,419 recorded during the same period in the previous academic year. The current mid-year number already has topped the 2007-2008 cumulative total of 10,642. “I’m sure by June, we’ll surpass the 12,000 mark.

That’s a lot of kids,” said Patricia Rivera, the district’s homeless education program manager. “I attribute that spike mainly to massive layoffs and resulting evictions or foreclosures.”

The devastating implications of homelessness have largely impacted black students. The racial makeup of the homeless student population fluctuates as students are identified, but last year, the breakdown has generally been 85 percent black, 9 to 10 percent Hispanic and 2 to 3 percent white, Rivera said.

Black students comprise 46.2 percent of the district’s overall student population, while Latino and white students constitute 41.2 percent and 8.9 percent, respectively.

The fact that Hispanic students seem to be underrepresented in the homeless tally could be a sign that, despite the district’s outreach efforts and bilingual liaison services, more needs to be done to assist them, Rivera added.

Patricia Nix-Hodes, associate director of law project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said advocates are concerned Latino families are reluctant to identify themselves as homeless because of immigration issues.

“This student demographic deserves an equal opportunity to succeed,” she said. “If they’re experiencing the upheaval that comes with housing instability, we want to ensure they know their rights. Remaining in the same school with provided transportation and fee waivers can ease the profound disruption to their home lives.”

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