Utah Schools Struggle to Support Number of Homeless Students

Sep 3, 2019

As the new school year begins, officials say Utah’s Washington County on the Arizona border, is struggling to support its growing population of homeless students.

In this Aug. 7, 2019, photo, provided by KUER-FM, Seren Stahr is photographed in front of his family's camp trailer, near St George, Utah. The Stahrs have struggled to find and keep long-term housing in Washington County. They’ve been living in their camper on public lands for several months. As the new school year begins, Washington County is struggling to support its growing population of homeless students, KUER reports.
Credit (David Fuchs/Courtesy of KUER via AP)

The Utah Board of Education says Washington County has the seventh highest homeless student population of any district. That’s according to public radio station KUER-FM in Salt Lake City. More than 1,000 homeless students enrolled in the Washington County School District last year. About 80% of those are members of families sharing a home out of economic need.

Washington County, including the town of St. George, is one of the fastest growing areas in the country. Wages have not kept up with inflation from the addition of 139,000 people between 1980 and 2017, an increase of more than 500%. The population is expected to triple by 2065, officials said.

The school district in the state’s southwest corner has received $60,000 in state and district funding for fee waivers, food and transportation for homeless students. That does not include thousands of dollars in donated supplies or new community resources, but officials said the amount is still not enough.

“The bigger we get, the bigger our problem,” said Carol Hollowell, founder of the Switchpoint Community Resource Center in St. George. “With what people make and what rent is in Washington County, it won’t ever work. It’s just too expensive.”

(The KUER-FM article was written by a corps member of Report for America, a nonprofit organization supporting local news coverage.)