INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Danny Murray was left homeless at age 18 when his mother moved in with her boyfriend and he decided to stay in Greenwood to complete his diploma from Center Grove Community School Corporation’s Alternative Academy.
The 19-year-old is part of a growing number of homeless students in Indiana, once considered primarily a dilemma for urban school districts but now expanding quickly in suburban districts. A record 16,223 students in Indiana schools were homeless in 2012-13. That is more than double the 2006-07 figure, according to Indiana Department of Education data.
In Johnson County, south of Indianapolis, where Murray’s school district is located, there were 590 homeless students in 2012-13, a jump from 157 students in 2006-07.
Being homeless in rural and suburban areas can be more difficult because community services and public transportation often are lacking, said Carmela DeCandia, director of the National Center on Family Homelessness. Her Massachusetts-based think tank released a study in 2010 that found 1 in 45 American children, about 1.6 million, are homeless.
“Families and students are doubling up with family and friends,” DeCandia said. “They are not showing up in the shelter system, but the schools are seeing it.”
A classmate’s family helped Murray, as did teachers and staff at the Alternative Academy, a program designed to help high school students in need.
“People don’t think about Center Grove and think that we’ve got homeless kids,” Assistant Superintendent William Long said. “People think about homeless as, you’re sleeping under a bridge or in a car, but maybe it’s the third house they’ve lived in.”
The Great Recession, which saw Indiana’s unemployment rate peak at 10.8 percent in mid-2009, is to blame for much of the rapid growth, experts say.
“I think the economy really hit us a lot harder than people thought,” Long said. “I think we’re still reeling a little bit.”
The largest population of homeless students in Indiana was Marion County with 5,233 in 2012-13, a 69 percent increase since 2006-07.
Federal law requires schools to provide transportation, free lunch, free books and other assistance to homeless students in exchange for increased funding. Schools have become better at finding those homeless kids, which experts say may account for some of the population growth.
But local school officials say there’s no doubt more parents are out of work, facing a home foreclosure and simply struggling to pay their bills, even in districts where many students come from affluent backgrounds.
“When the economy took a downturn we saw an increase in the number of homeless students,” said Steve Dillon, director of student services for Carmel Clay Schools.
The growing demand for services also means Carmel, Center Grove and other suburban schools where shelters are sparse lean heavily on churches, food pantries and township trustees to help their homeless students.
“Our social workers and counselors are excellent at turning over rocks, beg, borrow and stealing to get kids clothes, toiletries and whatever they need,” Dillon said.