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Utah Schools Struggle To Support Number Of Homeless Students

As the new school year begins, one Utah county is struggling to support its growing population of homeless students, officials said.

The Utah Board of Education said Washington County has the seventh highest homeless student population of any district.

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. The situation may not look like traditional homelessness, but it is highly unstable, said district Homeless Liaison Mike Carr.

"If you're the guest family, there's just constant stress," Carr said. "You do have a roof over your head, and you're protected and you probably have food. But even if it's your own family, it's like you're one argument away from being kicked out."

Washington County 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."