For the first time in years, Oregon saw a slight decrease in the number of homeless students last school year.
Since 2012, Oregon had seen a 24 percent increase in the number of students experiencing homelessness, reaching an all-time high of more than 22,540 students in 2016-17.
But according to data released this month by the Oregon Department of Education, the total number of students experiencing homelessness decreased to 21,756 in 2017-18.
Additionally, the achievement gap between homeless students and the total student population on state English language arts, science and math tests has narrowed.
But these seemingly hopeful numbers come with plenty of caveats. And the reasons behind the changes aren't clear.
While there was a small dip in the statewide count, homeless student numbers are getting worse in many rural school districts.
As for state testing, the gap between homeless students and their peers seems to be narrowing from something other than increased success of homeless students, considering their scores are actually down from 2016-17 in the districts receiving grants meant to help these students.
Statewide last year, less than 32 percent of homeless students met or exceeded state standards for English language arts, less than 40 percent for science and less than 18 percent for math.
"Oregon children continue to bear the brunt of our state's housing crisis and it's time for state lawmakers to take action," said Alison McIntosh, deputy director for Neighborhood Partnerships in Portland. "No cause evictions and steep rent spikes are driving too many families out of their homes with no place to go."
Districts with the most homeless students
Homeless youth are defined as lacking "a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence."
A homeless family could live in an emergency shelter or transitional housing unit, share housing with others, reside in motels or live in tents or trailers, according to the report. Unaccompanied minors who have been abandoned by their parents or who have run away from home, regardless of the reason, are also eligible for educational rights and services as homeless students.
Beaverton has the most homeless students out of any Oregon school district, with nearly 1,800 students — about 4 percent of its enrollment — experiencing homelessness at some point in the school year.
Medford has the second highest number — even higher than more populated areas such as Portland, Salem and Eugene — with 1,164 homeless students reported.
By comparison, Salem-Keizer Public Schools has the fourth highest count at 1,065 students or about 2.5 percent of its total enrollment.
Rural districts are hurt the most with the highest rates.
For example, Mapleton School District — located about an hour west of Eugene —had 43 homeless students last year. But those students account for more than 30 percent of its total student population.
Similarly, Butte Falls School District northeast of Medford had 58 homeless students last year, or nearly a quarter of its total enrollment.
The impact on students
Homelessness has a significant impact on students' abilities to attend school, concentrate or succeed academically and socially.
With only half of these students graduating in four years, they are more likely to rely on social services later in life, which affects them, their families and their communities.
Some homeless organizations are advocating for statewide legislation in the upcoming legislative session to address things like no-cause evictions and rent spikes that can force children and families onto the streets.
Michelle Glass, with the Medford area's Rogue Action Center, is among many pushing for statewide tenant protections.
"As state lawmakers celebrate with friends and family this week, with a secure roof over their head, we hope they will remember the 22,000 Oregon students who will be sleeping in cars, hotels, on couches and in shelters," she said.