The Juneau School District has seen a 59% increase in the number of students experiencing homelessness this year compared to this time last year, according to a recent report shared at the school board’s Tuesday night meeting.
The report shared by Superintendent Bridget Weiss, who is also the acting director of student services, outlined information about the district’s Students and Families in Transition Program, a mandated district program that provides assistance and support to students who are experiencing homelessness.
According to the report, there are currently 83 students experiencing homelessness in the district, of which 47 are in elementary school, 15 are in middle school and 21 are enrolled in high school. In addition, the district’s Foster Care Program has 55 students enrolled.
The students enrolled in the program make up for around 2% of the entire enrolled student population, according to the report.
During the meeting Weiss went into detail about what the program offers, describing it as a support system for students who are experiencing fragility in their housing and living situation. The support goes to provide things such as city bus passes, food support, clothing support and “anything that removes barriers for students in accessing their education.”
The district also works to connect families with local organizations like Family Promise of Juneau which offer supportive services to children and families experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness in Juneau.
Katti Carlson, executive director of Family Promise Juneau, said the organization has seen a major uptick in the number of families and children seeking support in the last year.
“When we talk about numbers, on average pre-COVID we served 50 calls a year, maybe 60,” she said. “Last year in 2022 and saw 250 phone calls and served 84 children and 56 families — our numbers at least doubled.”
Carlson attributed recent evictions and the retreat of COVID-19 aid money as major factors behind the increase and said the Family Promise of Juneau was anticipating a rise in need.
She said currently, the organization is still able to provide aid to all the families it works with whether it be providing services or connecting the families with other organizations. She said if the need continues to grow at a similar level, the organization will likely add additional staff to meet the needs.
At the Tuesday night meeting board member Martin Stepetin expressed concern about the jump in the percentage of students experiencing homelessness and asked if the school has enough resources to provide to the students enrolled in the program.
Weiss said the steep increase can in part be attributed to the end of COVID-related programs and funding that helped secure housing for many in the community.
“Likely some of this increase is due to fewer resources in the community for families who were sort of on the edge through COVID financially,” she said. “That’s one of the biggest pieces.”
The district’s Students and Families in Transition Program is funded by federal dollars and state grants, however Weiss said without the grants given by the state, the district would have a difficult time meeting the rise in the number of students in need of support. Weiss said currently the district has enough resources to support all the enrolled students in the program.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.