U.S. student homelessness at all time high, Mo. follows suit

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COLUMBIA - A growing number of students don't have a home to return to at the end of the day, even in Columbia.

The rate of U.S. students who are homeless is on the rise, and Missouri is no exception.

According to new statistics from the National Center for Homeless Education, approximately 1.3 million students enrolled in U.S. public preschools through high schools were homeless during the 2012-2013 school year. This is an 8% increase from the year before.

The number of reported homeless students in Missouri more than doubled between the 2007-08 and 2012-13 school years, with more than 26,000 homeless students enrolled by 2013.

Claire Slama, Director of the Homeless Youth Program at Rainbow House, said the number of homeless students is probably much higher, since many are hesitant to tell anyone they are homeless.

"They probably don't want to draw attention to the fact that they are homeless," Slama said. "Because of the experiences they've had, maybe they don't have a lot of trust in the ability of adults to keep them safe."

Slama said a main reason for the increase in homeless students has to do with a general rise in poverty.

"There's a lot more people in general struggling to have and maintain a place to stay," Slama said.

Columbia is an exception, with rates of student homelessness remaining fairly steady, fluctuating between 160 and 240 in the past five years.

Michell Baumstark with Columbia Public Schools said even that's too many.

She said homeless students often face unique challenges.

"Being able to stay focused in the classroom and keep up with their work can be a problem," Baumstark said. "Certainly anytime you have any social or emotional things happening outside of the regular classroom day it affects the time you are here with us."

Still, she said the district welcomes homeless students.

"A lot of times the circumstances they encounter outside of the regular school day is not their fault," Baumstark said. "It's something that is happening to them. And we have an obligation to be able to provide them the support that they need."