NAPERVILLE, Ill. (CBS) — As the school year begins in a down economy, Illinois educators are bracing for another rise in the number of homeless students.
Last year, 35,619 Illinois students were homeless — up more than 1,800 students from the previous year and continuing a disturbing three-year trend.
As CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, the problem is becoming more commonplace in districts where you might not expect it to surface.
Now starting her first year of college, Sia Kanjama was once at risk of never finishing high school. Family unemployment contributed to problems that made her homeless through graduation last June.
“I didn’t have anywhere else to go, so I had to move to my friend’s parents’ house for a month or two,” Sia says.
She was not a student in what we typically think of as an economically depressed area. In fact, she walked the halls of affluent Naperville North High School, where the number of homeless students is rising sharply.
“This year they are five times higher at the start of the school year as they were last year,” says Jeff Farson, director of student services at Naperville North.
For district 203, last year began with only 15 registered homeless students, but by the end the year they totaled 89. This year, homeless students already number 75, and their ranks traditionally grow during the school year.
“With the economy and the fact that there’s been so much downsizing and layoffs and all of those things,” Farson says. “I really don’t think any community is immune.”
In addition to federal programs to help provide meals to these students, Naperville North is fortunate because it has a support organization collecting school supplies and connecting homeless students with social service agencies. But there are problems no administrator can truly resolve.
Farson says some student would like to have friends over after school.
Also, “Some of them are living out of a car, and they just have the clothes they have in the vehicle,” he says.
Not all districts are equipped to handle the needs of these students. Fortunately for Sia, she was able to find her way in a district that could give her a fighting chance.
“I know that I am making the best out of myself and I am working really hard to go towards my goals,” she says.
The state defines a homeless student as one who doesn’t have a fixed night-time residence. By law, they may register to attend public school in the district where they were last housed or where they last enrolled.