Portage schools work to help students who are homeless

2013-08-24T18:00:00Z 2013-08-24T19:37:05Z Portage schools work to help students who are homelessJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE | Nearly 2 percent of Portage Township Schools students are homeless, according to a report filed with the Indiana Department of Education by the district.

Mary Tracy-MacAuley, PTS assistant superintendent, believes the reported numbers don't reflect reality.

"I think it is a deflated number," said Tracy-MacAuley.

During the 2012/2013 school year, 161 students were listed as homeless. That number is up slightly from the two previous years' reports, in which 155 students were considered homeless during the 2011/2012 school year and 157 during the 2010/2011 school year.

Portage Township Schools' enrollment is about 8,000 students.

"The only way we know someone is homeless is if they report it to us," said Tracy-MacAuley.

She said being homeless can be embarrassing for the parents and students, which may make some reluctant to report their living situation.

Of those listed on this year's report, 144 are considered "doubled up." They and/or their family are living with someone else, either an extended family or friend. They are considered homeless, she said, because they have no home of their own.

Eleven students lived in shelters last year; two were considered "unsheltered," possibly living in a car and four were living in either a hotel or motel during the school year.

"When people think of homeless, people think they are living on the street without any money," said Tracy-MacAuley, who said she isn't surprised by the numbers, considering the school district has an approximate 60 percent free or reduced lunch rate.

Being homeless, she said, can have an adverse affect on a child.

"When their basic needs are barely being met, the last thing on their mind is their education," said Tracy-MacAuley. "They are more concerned about eating their next meal or where they are going to sleep."

While the district has no specific program in place to address the special needs of homeless students, Tracy-MacAuley said, the district is a clearing house for children in need.

"We have home school advisers in every building. They are very familiar with the kids and work to get them the help, supplies and any other assistance they need," she said."If there is a need and the school is aware of it, it is addressed."

Tracy-MacAuley said the district and community at large also are very supportive of people in need, through food drives and a backpack program that provides students food for the weekend.

Tracy-MacAuley said helping students is first a matter of making the schools aware of the issues.

"Unless we know, we can't help. A big part of being able to help is the awareness," she said.

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