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April 25, 2015
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Tulsa County Homeless Public School Students Number in the Thousands

About 3,000 homeless children attend public schools in Tulsa County.

They range from kindergarten through high school.

More than half are enrolled in Tulsa Public Schools, the county’s largest system which encompasses most of the area’s homeless shelters. Berryhill, an enclave just west of Tulsa, has no homeless students, but other county districts have from a dozen to several hundred.

Most of the homeless students are either in shelters or “doubled up,” living with friends or relatives but without their own permanent address.

Homeless numbers have increased in recent years.

Administrators cite two reasons. One is obviously the economy, as people have lost jobs and houses and been forced to make other accommodations.

But a major reason is increased awareness of the problem and better screening and more understanding of the federal McKinney-Vento Act, which defines homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” That definition includes sharing housing “sometimes referred to as ‘doubled-up’.”

About 900 of the nearly 1,700 homeless in Tulsa Public Schools are doubled-up. Another 700 are in shelters or in transition such as awaiting foster care. About 75 are in motels or “unsheltered,” in camps, trailers, parks or even cars.

“Many live in places without running water and electricity, places not considered suitable for humans,” said Dr. Keith Ballard, Tulsa superintendent. “Our goal is to provide these children with some sense of stability and to clear any barriers to enrollment… Until we can provide homeless students with some sense of stability, it’s difficult for learning to take place.” 

Other districts, which do not have homeless shelters run by social service agencies or churches, generally have almost all doubled-up students, although occasionally an older high school student will be homeless and living on his own.

Sand Springs, for instance, lists 520 homeless students, but about 500 of them are doubled-up.

Union is another district with a sizable homeless population, about 725 this year. But, says coordinator Myriam Puleo, “This is always a moving target and the school year is not over.”

Union has a very aggressive program to identify homeless students, involving not only administrators and teachers, but bus drivers, nurses and cafeteria workers. “We do this to insure we don’t let any of our students or families slip through the cracks,” Puleo said.

Broken Arrow, Jenks and Owasso each have 30 to 40 homeless students. Glenpool, a smaller district, has only about a dozen. The northern county districts, Sperry and Skiatook, have fewer, about a dozen.

“We’re too far from the city,” said Skiatook coordinator Amy Moyer. “Kids don’t want to come up here.” Like most smaller communities, Skiatook has no “native homeless.”

Schools provide homeless students with transportation, bus passes, school supplies and, where needed, uniforms. All homeless students also qualify for free lunch programs. Donors help provide clothing and volunteers assist in getting birth certificates and other needed documents.

Most homeless students, even those that have been homeless for a long time, “want to stay in school,” said Tulsa coordinator Louida Delgado. She said it is hard to track them because of high mobility, children and families moving from area to area.

Tulsa also provides tutors at every homeless shelter.

Older kids, of high school age, tend to be homeless because of family difficulties “but a pretty good percentage finish high school…we had a lot that graduated last year,” she said. “Some have gone on to college.”

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