Tuesday, June 14, 2016


While student homelessness is on the rise, with more than 1.3 million homeless students identified during the 2013-14 school year,  student homelessness remains an invisible and extremely disruptive problem, compounded by the lack of awareness of the issue in many communities. 

Students experiencing homelessness struggle to stay in school, to perform well, and to form meaningful connections with peers and adults. Ultimately, they are much more likely to fall off track and eventually drop out of school than their non-homeless peers. Until this year, states and schools were not even accountable for tracking and making progress on their rates of graduation for homeless students. 

Schools are a central touch point for students and their families, with deep roots and connections to the communities they serve. These institutions can function as a hub for quickly identifying homeless students, and connecting them and their families to the organizations and agencies that have the capacity and resources to provide housing, transportation, mental health care, and other tangible and emotional supports that will help students persist in school during these difficult times. Students spend a significant portion of their day in school – and as a result, schools can offer these students a safe and consistent place to study and access to caring adults who can help them navigate some of the challenges they face. In an otherwise chaotic time of homelessness, schools can be pillars of stability. 

This study:
  • provides an overview of existing research on homeless students,
  • sheds light on the challenges homeless students face and the supports they say they need to succeed,
  • reports on the challenges adults – local liaisons and state coordinators – face in trying to help homeless students, and
  • recommends changes in policy and practice at the school, community, state and national level to help homeless students get on a path to adult success.

The Trauma and Disruption of Student Homelessness 

Youth interviewed and surveyed for this report overwhelmingly report that homelessness is taking or has taken a significant toll on their lives, their health, their relationships, and their education.
  • n Greater than 8 in 10 (82 percent) of formerly homeless youth say that being homeless had a big impact on their life overall. Majorities of homeless youth cite specific impacts, such as:
  • ||72 percent on their ability to feel safe and secure;
    ||71 percent on their mental and emotional health and 62
  • percent on their physical health; and ||69 percent on their self-confidence.
  • n More than two-thirds (68 percent) cite how homelessness made it difficult to maintain relationships with their own families, and 57 percent cite the same challenge with friends.
  • n Sixty-seven percent say homelessness had a big impact on their education, with:
  • ||Six in 10 formerly homeless youth saying it was hard to stay in school while they were homeless; and
  • ||68 percent saying it was hard to succeed and do well in school during their homelessness.
  • n Reflecting the impacts of homelessness on a student’s education, 42 percent of youth surveyed told us they had at one or more points dropped out of school.
These findings bolster existing research showing homeless students are more likely to be held back from grade to grade, be chronically absent, fail courses, have more disciplinary issues, and drop out of high school than their non-homeless peers. Homelessness can have highly negative impacts on a young person’s life, with dramatic effects on early development and learning, performance in middle and high school, and entry into the juvenile justice system. Often, the longer the period of homelessness the more dramatic the impact. In turn, research also indicates that when newly homeless unaccompanied youth return home safely and quickly, they are often able to stay home for long periods of time, mitigate the negative effects, and have the opportunity to complete their education. 

The Invisibility of Student Homelessness 

Given the heavy toll that homelessness takes on students, it is critical that they be identified and connected to the right support systems as soon as possible. This is made difficult, however, by the fact that many students do not want to share the fact that they are homeless with friends, classmates, teachers, counselors, or liaisons due to embarrassment, fear of stigma or bullying, or worry over what will happen if they self-report.

 Approximately two thirds (67 percent) of formerly homeless youth say they were uncomfortable (and nearly 4 in 10 were very uncomfortable) talking with people at their school about their housing situation and related challenges. In fact, in qualitative interviews many report that no one at their school was ever aware of their situation. 
In addition, student homelessness is a highly fluid situation, with 45 percent of young people interviewed reporting that homelessness is something they experienced more than a few times, and a similar proportion (47%) reporting that they experienced homelessness both on their own and with their families at different points in time. This ambiguity adds to the difficulties of identifying homeless students quickly.
  • n 78 percent were homeless a few times or more.
    n 94 percent stayed with other people, rather than in one
  • consistent place.
  • n 68 percent slept somewhere not typically designated for sleep because they had nowhere else to go.
  • n 50 percent slept in a car, park, abandoned building, bus station or other public place.
  • n 44 percent slept in a hotel/motel and 34 percent in an emergency shelter. 

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