Hawaii schools struggle to help growing number of homeless students

Hawaii schools struggle to help growing number of homeless students
Published: May. 16, 2016 at 9:18 PM HST|Updated: May. 17, 2016 at 1:54 AM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - McKinley High School special education teacher Laverne Moore has spent 47 years in the classroom.

Over the past decade, she's witnessed a disturbing trend: More of her students living on the street.

"I believe our no. 1 issue working with our homeless students is their uncertainty when they leave after school each day," Moore said. "They truly don't know if their tents will be there. If their families will be there."

Today, almost every school in the state has at least one homeless student, the state Department of Education reports.

By far the hardest hit communities are on Oahu's Leeward coast, where 754 students don't have a permanent place to live.

When students enroll in public school, their parents must fill out a form that asks them where they live.

In 2016, 3,576 students reported they didn't have a permanent place to stay, according to DOE figures. That's up 50 from the year before.

The total number of homeless students equates to at about 2 percent of the state's public school population, but officials say they believe many homeless students aren't identified.

"Some of the families will come forward," said said DOE homeless concerns liaison Cheryl Saito. "Others will remain hidden so to speak. They don't want all the attention."

The state provides homeless students with a backpack full of basic supplies, transportation and two hot meals a day.

However, many teachers go far beyond what's required.

"I've paid for lost books. I've paid for cap and gowns. I've paid for them to go and make up a class," Moore said. "Other teachers have paid for them to go on prom. You would be surprised how many teachers go beyond so that their students would have a break in life."

This year, eight of Moore's 80 students are homeless. Only three show up to class on a regular basis.

"They come in and they're hungry. They're really hungry," she said. "It carries over in their emotional ability to do the school work."

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