Housing costs cause big rise in student homelessness in Meridian, Caldwell, group says

More than 1 million children and youth are experiencing homelessness

Homelessness creates significant educational barriers or children and youth to attend and succeed in school.
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Homelessness creates significant educational barriers or children and youth to attend and succeed in school.

The number of homeless students in Idaho has grown in the last eight years — even doubling in some Treasure Valley districts, according to Idaho State Department of Education statistics.

The Idaho Asset Building Network, a nonprofit community improvement organization, highlighted the figures in a Tuesday news release. It sought to connect the trend to the state’s rising housing prices, saying the data “is in part a result of the shrinking supply of affordable homes in urban and rural areas.”

The numbers tally students who don’t have a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” Though just a fraction of Idaho’s student population, their numbers are rising in places like the West Ada School District — Idaho’s largest.

According to ISDE data, West Ada had 311 homeless students during the 2010-11 school year. Last school year, the district had 656 students without a stable place to live. There were 38,547 students in the district last year.

In nearby Canyon County, the Caldwell School District reported growth in that time from 203 homeless students to 452. That district actually peaked in 2011-12 with 591 housing-insecure students.

By sheer numbers, the Nampa and Boise school districts fare the worst. In the 2017-18 school year, 764 Boise students and 778 Nampa students were homeless. Both districts, however, have seen a decline: Boise had 990 homeless students at one point in the last eight years, and Nampa peaked at 1,194. There are more than 25,000 students in the Boise School District and roughly 14,000 in Nampa, according to the districts’ websites.

By percentage, many rural Idaho districts are hit hardest. In Clark County, one of Idaho’s least-populous counties, 22 percent of students are housing-insecure. (That’s 30 students — a jump from years of single digits.)

Statewide, numbers fell slightly from a peak of 8,244 homeless students in the 2015-2016 school year, to a total of 7,820 last year. But the recent tallies remain a far cry from the 2010-11 statewide total of 4,758.

Tuesday’s news release did not offer specifics on how much of the increase the Asset Building Network believes is tied to affordable housing. Policy director Alejandra Cerna Rios pointed to housing trends over those same years, and referenced affordable housing aid that recently passed the U.S. Senate.

“Rents have risen out of proportion with wages over many years, causing more and more families and students to double up with other families, live in motels and hotels, or live unsheltered,” Cerna Rios said.