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Teen Homelessness Growing Problem In Oklahoma

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There are social services that help homeless Tulsans, including homeless teenagers. There are social services that help homeless Tulsans, including homeless teenagers.
Tulsa Public Schools Community Liaison Julian Rodriguez . Tulsa Public Schools Community Liaison Julian Rodriguez .
TULSA, Oklahoma -

A recent study released by the U.S. Department of Education paints a shocking picture: for the first time in history, there are more than one million homeless school children in our country. That's more homeless school children than any time in our country's history.

The National Center on Family Homelessness says one in every 45 children in the United States is homeless, and that impact is being felt right here in our state.

If you take a look at some of Oklahoma's biggest school districts - 5 percent of Oklahoma City Public School students are homeless, at Tulsa Public Schools, that percentage is four. But, there are almost 300 more students living in shelters in Tulsa than OKC.

And as high as that number may seem, Tulsa Public Schools Community Liaison Julian Rodriguez says it may not come close to reality.

"Well, actually, I think the number's low," Julian Rodriguez said. It's actually probably bigger than that. Those are the ones that we know of.

Tulsa County districts reported the following number of homeless students:

  • Tulsa: 1,660 out of 42,000 = 5 percent
  • Broken Arrow: 45 out of 16,900 = .26 percent
  • Owasso: 32 out of 9,300 = .3 percent
  • Union: 826 out of 14,911 = 5.5 percent
  • Jenks: 42 out of 10,578 = .4 percent

Rodriguez says there are many reasons families don't report being homeless. They could be embarrassed or too proud to admit it.

And then there are those who used to be students, but gave up on education years ago.

"The very first time I was actually homeless, on my own - where I didn't have friends and a new city and everything - I'm like, it was mind blowing," said Kyle.

Kyle never made it past his freshman year of high school. He left home after some family trouble, but that wasn't the first time he was homeless.

11/22/2012 Related Story: Tulsa Art Exhibit Gives A Face To Homelessness And Hunger

"I've been, live here in Tulsa on the streets - on the streets off and on," he said. "I've been on the streets off and on my whole life actually."

And then there's Allie, who dropped out of high school three years ago. She's had a tough life. She was abused as a toddler and lost her mother and grandmother to cancer. She couch-surfed for most of her teenage years.

There are questions she says she asks herself everyday

"You know, 'why am I here? Why me?' You know, why did I have to be raped and molested when I was little. You know, I have a piece of a beer bottle stuck in my back and it's too deep for them to take it out," she said.

Allie's making it for now, holding down a part-time job - and still couch-surfing. But she knows how she can get back on her feet.

"I do see myself getting out of it, but I need to surround myself around people who actually care," Allie said.

For those on the streets, there are missions like Youth Services of Tulsa.

"I'm really grateful that there's places like this and places like Drop In and the Iron Gate. Without them I would have died of starvation," Kyle said.

And for those who are in school, many times counselors and or liaisons like Tulsa Public Schools Community Liaison Julian Rodriguez, will check on them wherever they're staying.

"I wanna help people period, that's what I do. And so when I know or find out about a specific student. I'm not thinking statistics or numbers. I'm just trying to help the individual that's in front of me with a need," Rodriguez said.

He says he's always looking for volunteers. He can be reached at 918-835-3397. Youth Services of Tulsa can be reached at 918-582-0061.

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