Homeless student population spikes in Tacoma and Seattle

TACOMA, Wash. -- There is a room geared just for homeless students at Tacoma Public Schools.

It’s a place where McKinney Vento program coordinators stockpile donations. Everything from blankets, school supplies and jackets are stored there as the weather gets colder.

“We were grateful to get anything,” Keyonia Stabler said.

Because Stabler and her children had nothing.

They ended up homeless after their Tacoma townhouse became infested with mice.

“I couldn’t afford anything, nowhere to move we went to shelters to couch surfing,” Stabler said.

Stabler says no matter where she spent the night she made sure her 3 sons attended school the next morning.

“I was busing my kids from North Seattle all the way to Tacoma,” Stabler said.

Then Tacoma Public Schools reached out telling Stabler about the McKinney Vento program.

“I wouldn’t have known the resource was even there,” Stabler said.

By law school districts have to help homeless students get to school through bus passes, taxis and transportation reimbursements.

Coordinators with the McKinney Vento program identify families who are homeless doing everything they can to provide not only transportation but other basic needs.

“It’s a huge obstacle,” McKinney Vento liaison Linda Seferian said.

Like many districts Tacoma Public Schools has little funding when it comes to dealing with homeless students, a population that is spiking.

“Every year we are identifying at least another 100 more kids per year,” Seferian said.

Seferian says there are about 1,800 homeless students in Tacoma Public Schools.
More than half of them are in elementary schools.

“We have supply of socks, socks are always needed,” Seferian said.

In Seattle Public Schools, the number is even higher.

“Last year we identified over 4,600 students,” Natalie Long said.

That's a 20% increase in one year and every single case is heartbreaking.

“I had a student share with me that he had to sleep in the trunk of the car while his sister was sleeping in the back seat and his parents in the front seat,” Long said.

Long is a family support worker who works at Dunlap Elementary school in South Seattle. Last year she helped up to 80 homeless students at Dunlap.

So a state grant pumping more than $1.5 million to help homeless students across the state couldn’t have come at a better time.

“That is going to allow us to get another liaison in the district,” Seferian said.

The Seattle district says they will also hire more staff with the extra funds.

The goal is to help families like the Stablers, who finally after 5 months living on the streets found a stable home in Auburn.

“Instead of giving up, go through it, the light is at the end of the tunnel,” Stabler said.

If you have extra school supplies consider donating them to your local school district. Gift cards are also the best way to get homeless students food and transportation.

Tyra Williams is the McKinney Vento Program Manager for Seattle Public Schools. She says if anyone wants to donate they can call her at (206) 252-0857.
Williams also says they are seeking help and after school activities for the older kids who do not have parents in the picture.