Young people living in critical housing situations face stressors that most youth never have to face. For example, the stress associated with finding a shelter is overwhelming. The below infographic, published by the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness, takes a look at what keeps students living in homelessness out of class. Data in the infographic is drawn from a recent report published by the U.S. Department of Education that reviewed state and district implementation of the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program, as part of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
The survey asked districts across the United States to identify the significant barriers for students experiencing homelessness to school success, enrollment and attendance. The most frequently identified reason for not attending class was family or student preoccupation with survival needs. Additionally, 42% of the district liaisons reported that lack of an appropriate study area to do homework was a significant barrier to school attendance. A similar number was noted for access to transportation to get students to and from school.
For programs targeting homeless youth to be effective, systems thinking may be required. The term ‘systems thinking’ refers to an approach to thinking and understanding complex problems by “illuminating the dynamic and often non-obvious interdependencies among multiple elements that create such problems”. In this context, systems thinking may mean recognizing that barriers to student success need to be identified and addressed in order for schools and educational programs for homeless youth to have their desired impact.
Living in homelessness without adequate supports opens up children and youth to enormous vulnerability and difficulty. For example, let’s consider the role that inadequate nutrition may play in a child’s life. A recent study conducted in Canada found only 4% of youth interviewed had access to enough food over the past month. Food options were especially limited for homeless youth on weekends. Poor nutrition increases the likelihood of obtaining infectious diseases, and is also a cause of impaired functioning. The absence of adequate nutritious community food assistance programs means that homeless youth are unlikely to function at a high level even if they are enrolled and attending class.
It is also important to consider how the stigma associated with being homeless may function as a disincentive for homeless children who should be attending school. While homelessness may have a very visible presence in urban areas, misunderstandings about causes of homelessness often pervade discussions about the issue. Examples of stereotypes include the belief that youth leave home for the streets just because they don’t like the rules at home, or that everyone living in homelessness chooses to be homeless. Learning about homelessness in the classroom setting can play a vital role in dispelling these myths. The Homeless Hub provides a number of resources that can be used to help educators and students interested in undertaking homelessness as a topic in their classroom.