While recent reports indicate that homelessness among families is decreasing, these reports are met with the disappointing reality that homelessness among young students is actually on the rise. For most of these families, two basic needs of the youth become a priority: hygiene and nourishment. Education falls easily by the wayside due to the loss of jobs, homes, and continual income to provide for a student’s activities while still in school. Included in this post are links to resources both federally and locally that homeless students and their families may find beneficial.
Rise of Youth Homelessness
According to Campaign for Children, as of December 2016, child and youth homelessness is on the rise in 35 states. Public schools reported over one million children and youth, preK-12, who were identified as experiencing homelessness, and enrolled in school at some point in the 2014-2015 school year. This is a 3.5% increase over three years, a 12% increase over four years, and a 34% increase since the recession ended in the summer of 2009, as reported by WNPR. Unfortunately, these conditions can also continue on into the college years.
- Campaign For Children: Youth Homelessness on the Rise
- WNPR: Adult Homelessness Decreases; Homeless Youth on the Rise
Effects of Being a Homeless Student
The impact of stress on school performance comes from the toxic environment that surrounds a homeless situation. When students are forced to live in hotels and/or shared living environment, such as shelters, their new environment is often one of little known comfort or control. According to Firesteel, even smaller problems such as finding a calm, quiet place to complete homework can affect a student’s educational efforts.
However, it isn’t always the physical obstacles presented by homelessness that can be the most destructive. For younger students, it’s been reported by the Family Housing Fund that school-age students are two-times more likely to experience illness each month (affecting their class attendance) and six-times more likely to experience stunted growth both physically and mentally. Homeless students typically have a smaller vocabulary and struggle with math due to having a focused environment to study. Homeless students may experience malnourishment, transportation issues, increased absences, and inability to obtain materials to complete their work.
- Firesteel: Impact of Homelessness on Academic Performance
- Family Housing Fund: Homelessness Effects on Children (PDF)
Resources for Students at Risk of Becoming Homeless
For families and students of all ages experiencing homelessness, you will find a list of links below with helpful resources both locally and federally. Contacts and resources may vary by location and age of the student. Please know there are many organizations throughout the country that offer support and assistance for students, regardless of the poverty level the family may find themselves at.
Homeless students (or their parents) of any age are encouraged to let their school know of their situation, as school resources for homeless families vary by location and county-wide efforts. However, the national Department of Food & Nutrition Services has implemented the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program in elementary, middle and high schools, which provides a nutritionally balanced meal to all students, regardless of income level. For students experiencing poverty, there is both free and reduced cost lunches available. Information for signing up for this program is available in any public school office throughout the United States.
Additionally, students who face homelessness may qualify for financial aid funds. These funds are disseminated on a case-by-case basis and vary in amount based on need and qualifications. Varying outlets are available for this, including (but not limited to), the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, Federal Student Financial Aid, and the Federal Work Study Program.
- USDA: School Breakfast Program
- Compact.org: College Cost Reduction and Access Act
- Free Application for Federal Student Aid: Main Page
- U.S. Department of Education: Federal Work-Study Program
For information regarding other local resources outside of the school environment, homeless families and students may reach out to their local Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Girls and Boys Town, Specialized Alternatives for Families & Youth, and the National Coalition for the Homeless. These organizations offer assistance with housing searches, after school activities, food assistance, mentoring and psychological care.
- Boys & Girls Clubs of America: Main Page
- Girls & Boys Town: Main Page
- Specialized Alternatives for Families & Youth: Main Page
- National Coalition for the Homeless: Local Directory List
- HUD Exchange: Resources for Homeless Youth
- Volunteers of America: Assisting Homeless People
State and Federal Resources
The resources listed below offer help regardless of location or poverty level. Resources include programs for college students and younger students still in lower grade levels. These programs include those for legal aid, food, housing assistance, student aid for tuition, help with solving problems of transportation and what help may be available if you are faced with homelessness.
- National Law Center of Homelessness & Poverty: Main Page
- National Alliance to End Homelessness: Higher Education
- Federal Student Aid: Homeless Youth
- National Center for Homeless Education: State Resources
- CollegeCost.gov: College Affordability and Transparency Center
- USA.gov: Government Benefits
The Department of Health & Human Services offers a full listing of resources for homeless families and youth alike, with additional varying services based on your family’s situation: homeless due to substance abuse, runaways, domestic abuse, or poverty due to job loss. Affordable Colleges Online provides statistics and resources to college students experiencing homelessness, including details regarding the national S.N.A.P. (Special Needs Assistance Programs), and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, designed to assist the homeless and help them find housing.
- Department of Health & Human Services: Homelessness Resources
- 1-800-Runaway: How to Help Homeless Students
- National Project Homeless Connect: A Step-by-step Guide
Additional Concerns and Issues Faced by Homeless Students
Problematic situations regarding students facing homelessness include lack of food, transportation, healthcare, and ongoing school costs. Most homeless families place priority on food and hygiene. As families can no longer afford tuition, the growing costs of books and supplies, education takes a lower priority. Students may struggle, academically, as they do not have the minimum necessities to complete their work.
Students and families are encouraged to reach out to their enrolled institution. Most schools in the United States are connected to local organizations offering support to homeless students as the numbers are rising. Remember, if you are experiencing or are at-risk of homelessness, you are not alone and there are places to go for help. Even if you are not Catholic or religious, Catholic Charities (a nation-wide organization) offers assistance to families depending on the emergency or financial need, with food, utilities, housing costs, and clothing.
Also, many local offices of Council of Aging help families in their communities with utility payments, rent, etc. While their organizational focuses are not directly related to homelessness, they do have services in place to help. Please locate your closest offices for details.
- Catholic Charities, USA: Main Page
- National Council on Aging: Main Page
- Child Trends: Homeless Children & Youth
- The InnBetween: Supporting Homeless Youth
Resources for Additional Support
The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth offers many direct resources and plans to assist homeless students throughout the United States. These resources offer direction in the way of kindergarten to 12th grade education, college level resources, housing, and nutrition. Also included are links for further reading and resources regarding student homelessness.