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Student Homelessness and How Schools Are Working to Combat the Problem

For students who don’t have a bed to call their own, staying focused in class and completing homework assignments can be incredibly difficult. Homelessness is affecting a growing number of children, having doubled in the last decade to 1.3 million, according to the National Center for Homeless Education.

This doesn't mean that all students who are homeless are living on the street or in homeless shelters. Many could have parents that were evicted from their homes and are bouncing in-between short stays with family and friends. Regardless, the instability can be incredibly jarring for students.

The lack of any sort of stability leaves students feeling especially powerless and often has a severe effect on their ability to attend school. The average homeless student misses 88 school days a year, according to the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness. This, of course, can easily put students on the path to dropping out. Homeless students have a graduation rate of just 55 percent, compared with a 75 percent graduation rate for students with stable housing.

As for a cause for the growing number of homeless children, there are a number of factors at play. In New York City last year, there were 100,000 homeless students in the city’s public school system. Many of these children became homeless as a result of the city’s housing crisis that has pushed apartment rents to an all-time high. New York has also seen federal and state aid dwindle—something that numerous states are grappling with.

There’s also the culprit of the United States’ alarming opioid crisis. For children of opioid addicts who lose their jobs, the inability to make rent or mortgage payments usually follows. For many homeless teens, who are disproportionately youth of LGBT orientation, they may no longer feel welcome at home.

Under new ESSA requirements, school districts must perform outreach to homeless students throughout the school year, inform homeless student of their student rights, and improve upon homeless student graduation rates.

With the updated ESSA requirements came a 20-percent increase in funding for the McKinney-Vento enforcement act. The act was signed into law by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago and requires schools to provide “protections and services” for homeless students by removing enrollment barriers like lack of transportation or proof of residency.

School district officials in Washington state’s Tukwila school district plan to use a $250,000 grant to help its homeless student population which accounts for 12 percent of the district’s students. The district plans to hire a coordinator to work with families and educate teachers and staff on how they can help. “We want to empower the teachers and students,” the district's homeless-student coordinator Jonathan Houston told The Seattle Times. “Not just a temporary Band-Aid, but a continuum of care.”

An increase in funding doesn't necessarily equal a fix, though, the problem can often be at the local level with a lack of information.

Tackling the issue of homelessness can be a daunting task for educators who might not necessarily know how to help. Many students may simply not report that they are homeless for fear of being stigmatized. Laretta Marks, director of student services for Harrison County school district in Mississippi, stresses the importance of having teachers and staff work to get rid of the confusion and stereotypes surrounding homelessness. “We try to understand what it truly is like to be a homeless person,” Marks told The Hechinger Report. “To put yourself in that situation.”

For a guide on how to reach out to homeless youth visit the U.S. Department of Education.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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