At least 400 of those students are “unaccompanied youths” who live without parents or guardians, another record, school officials say.
“We’ve been really challenged to keep pace with what our community has been facing,” said Dean H. Klein, director of the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness.
Across the Washington region, which is home to seven of the 10 richest counties in the nation, the number of homeless students underscores a stark economic divide that has continued to grow.
In Montgomery County, officials said a total of 825 homeless students were enrolled in public schools last year. The total number of homeless students in D.C. public schools and public charter schools last year reached 2,946.
In Fairfax, where the median household income is above $100,000, more than 47,000 students are eligible for free and reduced lunches, a measure of poverty in schools. That’s an increase of 38 percent since 2008, far outpacing the county’s population growth. School officials so far have counted 1,336 homeless students since July, and the number is on pace to exceed 2,500 by the end of the school year. In 1996, there were 274 homeless students in Fairfax County.
Between 2005 and 2011, the number of homeless students in Virginia grew by 58 percent, according to data from Project HOPE Virginia, a federally funded program to help homeless youths.
“The numbers in Virginia have consistently gone up, and they show no signs of slowing down,” said Patricia Popp, state coordinator for Project HOPE Virginia. “This really is a serious, serious concern for schools and families.”
On Fairfax streets, the homeless include students like Anishia Johnson, 18, who has been moving between homeless shelters and halfway houses with her mother and three of her siblings.
“My friends want to come over, and I have to hide where I live,” Johnson said.
She works part time at a Target in Fairfax while trying to keep up in school. She dreams of becoming a singer like Rihanna, and she wears a pink bandanna over her hair. But Johnson didn’t attend the homecoming dance at Fairfax High School this fall because she couldn’t afford a dress.
Her mother, Robertia Johnson, 38, has been jobless since 2008, when she stopped working as a custodian in Prince George’s County public schools. Bills began to pile up, and many of her family’s personal belongings were auctioned off after she couldn’t afford the rent at a storage locker. It wasn’t long until she lost her home and had to use food stamps.
“I want a better life for my children,” Robertia Johnson said.