WILLISTON, N.D. — The number of students in the oil patch hub of Williston who are considered homeless has grown amid the city's population boom.
The number has jumped by more than one-third in the past two years, to 128 students, according to Deb Roel homeless liaison and parenting director for the school district.
Williston's population has more than doubled since the 2010 Census, with estimates now reaching more than 30,000 people. That has led to a housing crunch and more families living in "transitional" housing such as campers. Students who live in such housing are considered homeless under a federal law called the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 2001, which aims to ensure that homeless children have equal access to free public education.
Some families in Williston also are unable to afford higher rents — a recent national study by an apartment rental guie found that Williston has the highest average rent prices in the country, at nearly $2,400 for a 700-square-foot one-bedroom apartment.
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"I don't think anyone ever thought of Williston when McKinney-Vento was created," Roel said.
Roel is awaiting state approval of $18,000 in grants to help connect homeless students with resources such as free lunches, travel expenses and school supplies, though she said many families with students considered homeless aren't eager for help. Some of the families are considered homeless only because the parents work in temporary housing supplied by oil industry companies, while others simply don't want aid.
"Not many people are asking above and beyond," Roel said.