Homeless Students Need Rides Tamara Williams is the Homeless Liaison for Tacoma Public Schools. She coordinates transportation for students under the McKinney-Vento Act, working directly with parents, shelter staff, community agencies, school staff and the transportation department. Together they identify and address the needs of eligible students and families.
The Tacoma School District has identified 998 McKinney-Vento eligible students, 683 of whom attend the Tacoma School District. The rest return to their school of origin in other school districts.
The students come from a wide variety of living situations including living in shelters, living with family and friends, living in hotels, and camping.
Students of the Tacoma School District travel from as far as Seattle to the north and Shelton to the south to attend school. Traveling these distances has an effect on the student’s ability to learn. “At the point at which a student is traveling for over an hour to get to school, it becomes a challenge to pay attention in class,” explains Williams.
The Tacoma School District uses a range of transportation options to transport these students. Many of the students are transported on Tacoma School District bus routes. The district also purchases bus passes from Pierce Transit and gives the passes to high school students. Or the district may pay for mileage reimbursement. For the more difficult transportation situations, schools rely on Paratransit Service, Inc., to broker student transportation by arranging rides with qualified providers in the community.
When asked about the challenges of providing transportation to students under the McKinney-Vento Act, Williams noted the high cost to the district. According to Williams it cost roughly $400,000 dollars a year to provide transportation for McKinney-Vento eligible students.
Another challenge is being flexible enough to respond to the constant changes in the living situations of these students. Williams notes,“Many of the students eligible for transportation will be in one living situation one week and another one the next; a circumstance can change and require a whole new transportation plan.”
Regional Demographic Characteristics
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, approximately 3.3 million people live in the central Puget Sound region of King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties, of which 51 percent or 1.7 million people live in King. Roughly 1 to 1.3 million people – 30-40 percent of the population -- has a greater need for transportation services because they are potentially unable to drive due to a disability, their age or income status. Of the total population in the region:
NOTE: Some individuals are in multiple population groups; e.g., a senior with a disability. P
Figure 6: Regional Populations Typically with Special Transportation Needs: Percent of Census Block Groups
ierce County has the highest percentage of the population with potential special transportation needs in the region. Seniors and youth account for 42 percent of the population in Pierce County as compared to 31-32 percent in the other three. Pierce County also has the highest percentage of population with low-incomes (13 percent) as compared to King (9 percent), Kitsap (8 percent) and Snohomish (7 percent). Kitsap and Pierce counties have the highest percentage of population with disabilities at 29 percent and 23 percent, respectively, as compared with King (18 percent) and Snohomish (17 percent).
Source: 2000 Census Data, PSRC
he magnitude of transportation need is difficult to quantify. However, with half of this “higher-risk” population likely to have a transportation need at some time, a conservative estimate is 500,000 people That is, for every six people in the region, one person is unable to make it to the doctor, grocery store, social services, after-school activities, or to cultural events that contribute to the Puget Sound region’s high quality of life.
Table 1: People typically with higher transportation needs
Age Demographics Children: Approximately 736,000 people, or 23 percent of the region’s population, are children age 5 to 17. This population group either does not have a driver’s license, or in the case of young adults, have just left home for the first time and are perhaps without a vehicle. Parents, school buses, transit, walking, and bicycling are all part of this age group’s mobility options. In some cases, these choices are either unavailable or unsafe.
Older Adults: About 369,000 adults older over the age 65 live in the region. Recent research suggests that this sector of the population is growing more rapidly than any other. Data from the 2000 Census indicates that approximately 334,000 individuals comprised the 65+ age cohort in the region. Projections from the Washington State Office of Financial Management show incredible growth in the segment of the population, with approximately 621,000 in the same age cohort in 2020, almost twice the number of those in that age group today. In 2002 the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Public Policy Institute published a report that estimates one in five (21 percent) Americans age 65 and older do not drive, and more than 50 percent of non-drivers age 65 and older stay home on any given day due to a lack adequate transportation options. Further compounding the problem, people generally outlive their ability to drive an average of six to 11 years. These statistics indicate that our aging population will rely more and more on transportation services in the near-term.
Over 635,000 people, about 19 percent of the region’s population, report a disability. A disability as defined by the U.S. Census means a sensory, physical, mental, self-care, or going outside the home disability. While accessibility offers more enriched lives for people with disabilities, the economy also benefits. If health and transportation options allow it, people with disabilities can be very active participants in the community.
Roughly 60 percent of people with disabilities, age 21-64, are employed. For every six employed people without a disability in the region, there is one employed person with a disability.
Beyond employment, the transportation needs of people with disabilities can be life threatening. If a medically vulnerable person is unable to get the medical attention he or she needs, lack of mobililty may put a life at additional risk. In addition, the ability to actively engage in a social life outside of employment and medical treatment is an important part of anyone’s life, including those with disabilities.