More than 3,000 public school students in Hawaii reported that they were homeless at the start of the 2017 school year, new state figures show.
Education officials say roughly 2,000 of those students were "doubled-up," which means they don't have a permanent place to stay and are likely living with friends or extended family.
The other 1,000 children are either living in shelters or on the street.
This year's numbers are down about 500 from last May, but officials believe the actual number of homeless students could be much higher.
"Some feel it could be as high as 4,500, because preschool students are not included in that count," said Suzanne Mulcahy, assistant superintendent of the Office of Curriculum Instruction and Student Support. "In addition to that, students who are living doubled-up, they don't feel like they are homeless, so they don't come in and say they're homeless."
Although close to three quarters of the reported homeless students live on Oahu, officials say it's an issue that affects nearly every public school in the state, and Hawaii's homeless epidemic has turned some educators into social workers.
Sylvia Koch is a guidance counselor at Kipapa Elementary.
"First thing for counselors to do is to build relationships with the families," said Koch. "Make sure that school is a safe place for them. Sometimes schools are places of refuge for these kids because they have nothing else."
In addition, the Department of Education says it employs 18 homeless community liaisons, who work to link struggling families with needed services.
"They connect with shelters and they go out to beach parks and other areas where they see homeless families living, so they can make sure they find students and connect them with the school and get them enrolled and find other services to support them," said Mulcahy.
Schools have also stepped in to give homeless students essential items – like clothes, food and school supplies – as well as a place to shower and do laundry.
Koch believes those multiple layers of support are helping some homeless families transition into permanent living situations.
"I do think it's getting better. But it's very slow. Very slow progress," said Koch.
Education officials say they are looking to hire another 15 homeless community liaisons. They are slated to work in neighborhoods with the highest number of homeless students.
Here's a district-by-district breakdown of Hawaii's roughly 3,000 homeless students:
- Farrington-Kaiser-Kalani 5%
- Kaimuki-McKinley-Roosevelt 10%
- Aiea-Moanalua-Radford 3%
- Leilehua-Mililani-Waialua 3%
- Campbell-Kapolei 13%
- Pearl City-Waipahu 9%
- Nanakuli-Waianae 19%
- Castle-Kahuku 4%
- Kailua-Kalaheo 7%
- Hilo-Waiakea 3%
- Kau-Keaau-Pahoa 2%
- Honokaa-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena 3%
- Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui 6%
- Hana-Lahainaluna-Lanai-Molokai 2%
- Kapaa-Kauai-Waimea 6%
- Charter 5%