Addressing the homeless student crisis part 1: Awareness

William Woods EDU

According to the National Center for Homeless Education, 1.3 million students experienced homelessness during the 2014-2015 school year — nearly double the number a decade ago.

But homelessness may not always look like what you’d picture — that your students are sleeping out on the street somewhere (though for some this could very well be the situation).

A report by the nonpartisan advocacy group Civic Enterprises surveyed 44 currently homeless youth and 158 who were homeless at some point in their middle school or high school career.

What does homelessness look like for these boys and girls?

  • 94 percent reported staying with different people such as relatives or friends
  • 44 percent stayed in a hotel
  • 50 percent had spent some nights in a car, park, abandoned building or a public place like a bus station

It can be hard to solve a problem you cannot identify. Many schools ask for proof of residency only once upon enrollment, which doesn’t account for transitions or instability in a student’s home life. Additionally, according to those interviewed in the study, many students will hide the fact that they are dealing with homelessness due to stigma.

In an interview, Erin Ingram, one of the authors of the report, paints a clearer picture for what a day in the life of a homeless student might look like. She reports hearing from many students that while they were homeless they would have to make long commutes to school each day and spend each night trying to fall asleep in noisy, uncomfortable or unsafe environments. They shared with her, “I couldn’t sleep at night. I couldn’t do my homework. And because we were always moving, I never had my books or my school supplies.”

Caitlin Cheney, another student who was dealing with homelessness in high school shared in an interview with NPR, “I just wish that when kids are falling asleep in class or unable to do some assignments, or spending more time in lunch eating their only meal of the day, that teachers would ask what’s going on.”

Bachelors in education students at William Woods University may take courses like EDU453: Classroom Management and EDU 261: Assessing Young Children to learn techniques and skills to observe the classroom for changes in student behavior and come up with intervention strategies. Though EDU 261 is specifically for the assessment of those with developmental and learning disabilities, it will bring a heightened sense of awareness and observation in general that can be used in any classroom.

In addition to teacher training through courses like those listed above, our next blog will cover some additional advice on red flags teachers, staff and administrators can look for to identify homelessness or instability in their students, and what can be done.

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