For many students, homelessness is a legitimate threat, but there are steps teachers can take to identify and help homeless children.
While homeless students are more common than many teachers might realize, being without a home isn’t always the rule of homelessness for children. Though they might live with relatives, or rely on the hospitality of a family friend, doubled-up students are still homeless, as they are without a home of their own and the stability that it brings. At times, teachers might feel helpless or uncertain regarding how to help these students, but resources are available to help educators combat this devastating trend.
Student Homelessness Rising
Children who once lived in secure homes might now find themselves living with relatives outside of the nuclear family unit, as parents attempt to recover from economic losses. These living situations can occur at any time and increased during the financial crisis of 2008. According to the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness’ (ICPH) 2014 report “A Tale of Two Students: Homelessness in New York City Public Schools”, there was a 60 percent increase in homeless New York City schoolchildren over a six-year period. This increase totaled 80,000 homeless children during the city’s 2012-13 school year.
Helping Homeless Students
A 60-percent increase is a formidable figure, so how can teachers help in an appropriate and effective manner? “Homeless students and their families are present in communities across the country — urban, suburban, and rural — so it is important to know that a homeless student could be in any class, sitting at any desk, or participating on any team,” says Linda Bazerjian, Director of External Affairs for ICPH.
Students are often concerned about image, or not willing to volunteer personal family information. This is especially true if a doubled-up student is dependent on a fragile living arrangement in which abuse is prevalent in the home. Bazerjian advises that teachers must remain informed regarding the tools that are available to them in order to help students.
“One of the best steps that teachers can take is to be armed with information and data. Who is the homelessness liaison in the district or school? What types of resources does the district provide to help students and parents? Sometimes it is assistance with the basics like a warm winter coat or providing access to free meals. Other times it is knowing about after-school programs available at school or right at a local shelter that the family can participate in for free so the student gets the extra help he or she needs academically.”
Growing Government Resources
While homelessness among students has become so dire that amendments were made to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act during the passage of ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), some lawmakers and education professionals feel these changes are insufficient. While this issue was considered during ESSA’s development, a group of Congressional members feel the act provides insufficient action and have requested the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development consider a provision that would entrust liaisons with greater decision-making power, thereby facilitating the process of aiding homeless students and their families.
Unfortunately, student homelessness will not be solved quickly, especially since it continues to grow at an alarming rate. Help students by becoming a respected confidant, forging relationships with homeless liaisons, and providing guidance regarding programs that can provide empowering tools.