MARIETTA - The number of homeless children in the U.S. increased by 38 percent from 2007 to 2010, with Ohio's population of homeless children jumping by nearly 13,000 during that time, according to a recently released report.
During the 2010-2011 school year, there were a reported 63 homeless children in the Marietta City school district, a number that is on the rise.
The National Center on Family Homelessness report "America's Youngest Outcasts 2010," released in December, says more than 1.6 million children, or one in 45, are homeless annually in America. This equates to more than 30,000 children each week and more than 4,400 each day.
According to the report, it's an indication that the risks for child homelessness - such as extreme poverty and worst case scenario housing needs - have worsened with the recession, even though the total housing capacity for families increased by more than 15,000 units in the past four years, primarily due to the federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program.
Each state was ranked according to extent of child homelessness, child well-being, risk for child homelessness and state policy and planning efforts. Ohio came in at number 25, with 50 being the worst.
The number of homeless children in Ohio in 2010 was 32,953, up from about 20,000 in 2006.
Child homelessness continues to be a problem locally as well, according to Stevie Fairchild, homeless liaison with the Ohio Valley Educational Service Center.
"As of September 2011, there were 424 homeless eligible students in this area - Noble, Guernsey and Monroe counties and Union Local (school district) out of Belmont County," she said. "Washington County is in my service area but until this year, I hadn't addressed Washington County."
Fairchild noted the definition of homelessness, according to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act, is different than what some people perceive it to be.
"If a student is displaced from their permanent nighttime residence, they are homeless eligible," she said. "These are not necessarily families living on the streets in cardboard boxes. We have families in and out of the domestic violence shelter and we have a lot of families doubling up."
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act requires districts to ensure homeless students have access to education and other services they need to meet the same high academic achievement standards as all students.
All local school districts have a designated Homeless Liaison who works to ensure that homeless children and youth are identified, homeless students enroll in and have full and equal opportunity to succeed in school and that homeless families, children and youth receive educational services.
Fairchild said if a child is homeless, his or her academic performance is sometimes lower than that of their peers.
"How important is it that you pass the math test tomorrow when you don't know where you're going to sleep tonight or what you're going to have tomorrow to eat?" she said.
The report finds children experiencing homelessness in America suffer from hunger and poor physical and emotional health as well as limited academic proficiency in reading and math.
Fairchild pointed out that some school districts do a better job of identifying homeless eligible students than others.
Fort Frye Local Schools' curriculum director, Noreen Mullens, said in many cases, although a child is homeless, his or her family doesn't want to admit to it.
She said if a secretary, principal, teacher or other district employee believes a child is homeless, a form is given to him or her so they can give it to their parent or legal guardian to fill out. The form enables the district to connect such students with free and reduced lunch and other programs.
She said there were eight students last year in the district who reported being doubled up with other families, but this year there have been no reports of homeless students.
"It's self-reported, so there are probably some out there but we just don't have them," she said. "Even if we don't get the paper back, we still follow through with everything we can because we know that might be the situation even if they're not reporting."
The scenario is quite different in Marietta City Schools.
The district's director of teaching and learning, Jason Smith, said there were 59 homeless children enrolled in the district during the 2008-2009 school year. That number fell to 51 in 2009-2010, but then spiked in the 2010-2011 school year to 63.
"This year, I think we're projected to be a little higher than that, but it's too soon to tell," he said.
Smith said if anyone who works in the district suspects that a child is homeless, he or she is referred to Washington County Children Services, which ensures that the child has access to the same education and other services they need to meet the high academic achievement standards of all students within the district.
Smith noted last year, most of the students who were homeless eligible were doubled up with other families.
In some cases, though, children are in domestic violence shelters with their mothers.
Annelle Edwards, co-director of the EVE domestic violence shelter, said 47 children stayed in the shelter in 2009, 58 stayed there in 2010 and in 2011, 56 children lived there.
She said the shelter is housing more children because it is taking in younger women. Last year, she said, 50 percent of the women housed there were between 18 and 29.
"Our numbers are increasing and it has to do with younger women with children who are having a harder time finding a job," she said.
Locally, Washington County Children Services provides assistance for homeless children. While it does not provide funds, it does connect families with resources to help them get on their feet. The agency can be contacted at (740) 373-3485.
The National Center on Family Homelessness has also launched the campaign to End Child Homelessness, which aims to increase public awareness, inform policy solutions, share tools and best practices with community caregivers and lead state and national advocacy efforts.