Number of Homeless Native American, Black Students in Washington State Increases

Simon Moya-Smith, Indian Country Today 


The state of Washington’s Native American and black K-12 students are three times more likely to be homeless than their white peers, a new study finds.

In the 2013-14 school year, 7.6 percent of Native American students in Washington were counted as homeless. Likewise, 7.6 percent of the black students there were also counted as homeless, according to a reportby the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

That same year, Washington’s Hispanic and Latino students suffered a 4.1 percent homelessness rate. In comparison, 2.3 percent of white students were counted as homeless.

The overall percentage of homeless K-12 students throughout the state jumped six points from the previous year, Joseph O’Sullivan of The Seattle Timesreported. During the 2012-13 school year, there were 30,609 homeless students. The next year, there were 32,494.

Elected officials in Washington are struggling with a recent state Supreme Court ruling to fully fund all K-12 schools, which threatens the funding to some social services programs.

“These numbers make it clear that funding education at the expense of the safety net is a false choice,” Rachael Myers, executive director of the The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, told O’Sullivan in a statement. “Sufficiently funding basic education means funding what children need both inside and outside the classroom.”

Caleb Dunlap, Ojibwe, who worked with Washington’s Native American homeless community for three years as program manager for the Seattle-based Chief Seattle Club, a local nonprofit that works to provide homeless Natives with basic needs and services, told ICTMNhe believes the increase in homeless students is due to the spike in homeless families.

Dunlap said even the state’s health and human services information line, 2-1-1, where families in need can seek assistance, often falls short.

“All they’re telling you is ‘this shelter’s full’ and ‘that shelter’s full’,” he said. “They’re just giving you the run around.”

Dunlap added that the endemic of homelessness in Washington is punctuated by certain rules and regulations. The age of a child, for example, is reason enough to deny a parent access to temporary housing, he said.

“I would say that Seattle needs to provide better direct access to emergency shelters and temporary to permanent housing options for families facing homelessness,” he said. “Often family services can be limited due to the age of children. In the case of single mother families it can be harder for them to find housing placements if they have male children over the age of 13 due to often being in housing placement with domestic violence victims.”

Seattle, Dunlap said, was designated as a relocation city during the Indian relocation acts of the 1950s and ’60s. The acts encouraged Native Americans to relocate from reservations to cities with promises of jobs and vocational training. The city soon experienced a growing number of homeless Native Americans after some began to lose employment.

“They ended up not getting the very best jobs and that’s kind of where it started,” he said.