Homeless students in Washington top 30K; 500+ in Yakima

YAKIMA VALLEY, Wash. -- It's a fact of life that many of us would rather just ignore: Over 30,000 students in Washington don't have a place to live - at least 500 homeless students in Yakima alone. KIMA spoke to one young woman whose homelessness led her to drop out of high school.

Sierra Ruff rents an apartment with a friend. She has her GED and will start classes at Perry Tech this summer.

But, it wasn't always this way. Sierra used to be homeless.

"I was climbing out my bedroom window, and my mom was like, 'Well, if you're going to climb out the bedroom, then you can just pack all your stuff and leave.'"

Sierra was just 16, a student at Eisenhower High school. She slept on friends' couches - sometimes in the park. Being homeless made school even harder.

"Paying attention, doing the work, reading, writing. Everything was more... It was just difficult for me to actually sit down and listen to the teacher talk."

Sierra's story is not unique. There are over 30,000 homeless students statewide, an almost 12 percent increase over the previous year. The Yakima, Grandview, and Wapato school districts had the most homeless students in the Valley. Mabton had the highest percentage across the districts.

The numbers include students living on the street, in shelters, motels, public spaces or shared housing caused by economic hardship.

And, there may be more. OIC YouthBuild case manager Monica Garcia says not all students are up front about being homeless.

"I think for some of them, it is a sensitive subject and they don't want to share it with everybody, because they don't want to be judged either."

Lacking money for a bus pass and unable to concentrate at school, Sierra eventually dropped out the summer before her senior year and fell in with a rough crowd.

"I was disappointed in myself because I always told myself, 'I'm going to finish high school and I'm going to college, and I'm going to be somebody someday.'"

It took at least another year to turn things around, to get clean and get back in school.

A daily uphill battle, faced by thousands of others like Sierra.

Washington state gets nearly $1 million a year from the federal government to help homeless students. That money is redistributed to local districts, with the most money going to places with the greatest need.