Many people experience homelessness due to a number of factors. Costly medical conditions, domestic violence, gentrification, and other physical, mental, and environmental factors can leave families and individuals in search of stable housing. With the rampant stigmas surrounding people experiencing homelessness, it can be easy to forget about the youth who are also affected. For some students, school is the only form of stability in their lives. Their experiences at school can be incredibly formative of their wellbeing and ability to overcome adversities such as not having reliable housing. Regardless of a student’s couth disposition, they may not have a well-structured life outside the classroom. Explore how to help support students experiencing homelessness to provide for the disenfranchised youth in your community.
How Teachers and Education Staff Can Help Students Experiencing Homelessness
Teachers are some of the most influential role models in a student’s life. They may have an even greater impression on a student with a limited support system outside of the classroom. If you’re a teacher looking for ways to identify and assist students who don’t have stable housing, read on.
Become Familiar With the McKinney-Vento Act
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was created to provide and protect students experiencing homelessness. The Act serves these students in several ways, creating a more cohesive learning experience for them.
- The Act allows these students to remain in one school if they choose, despite temporary living rearrangements in another district. The school is responsible for providing adequate transportation.
- Students experiencing homelessness can enroll in class and begin immediately. Whereas most students must provide ample documents such as a birth certificate, proof of residency and guardianship, immunization forms, and other records, these students are excused. They may join courses even if they have missed the enrollment or application deadline.
- The Act declares that students without reliable housing must have access to all school programs and services they are eligible for. Extracurriculars, special education assistance, school nutrition programs, online learning, summer school, and before and after-school activities are a handful of examples of programs they’ll have access to.
- Education agencies must have a homeless liaison dedicated to guiding students experiencing homelessness. Securing documents and ensuring enrollment to courses and programs are a few of the liaison’s responsibilities.
Get in touch with your district’s homeless liaison if you suspect a student is affected by homelessness. They’ll have the proper knowledge to dictate the next steps and can relay additional local resources.
Establish a Welcoming Environment In the Classroom
You can foster empowering relationships with your students by establishing a classroom that is warm and welcoming. Check in with your students each day to ensure their needs are being met.
Create a climate that hosts a zero-tolerance for bullying and one that opens the floor for honest communication. Doing so will make students more comfortable with coming to you for adversities they’re facing outside of class.
Learn How To Identify and Best Assist Students Experiencing Homelessness
Because of the heavy stigma surrounding homelessness, it can be difficult for students without stable living conditions to come forward about their situation. Be wary of the signs that your student may be without housing and how to help support students experiencing homelessness in a manner that’s comfortable for them. Some signs they may be experiencing homelessness include:
- Lack of records
- Inconsistent attendance, gaps in learnings, enrollment in several schools
- Poor hygiene or wearing the same clothing repetitively
- Lack of participation in after-school programs or field trips, lack of school supplies, and the inability to complete at-home projects
Use a Trauma-Informed Approach
The reasons behind a student’s shelter situation may be harrowing for them to communicate. You should be aware and sensitive of the potentially traumatic obstacles they face at home. Approaching your student with sympathy and kindness is essential to having an open and honest conversation.
Stabilize Basic Needs and Encourage Participation
Get your school’s staff and parents involved in a schoolwide drive, so your district can provide basic supplies for the students in need. Backpacks USA has a vast assortment of bulk school supplies to make securing supplies for struggling students affordable. From wholesale insulated lunch bags to supply kits and backpacks, we have everything a student could need to thrive in an academic setting.
Encourage participation from each of your students to let them know their opinion matters. If you suspect a student may be experiencing homelessness, verbalize your appreciation for their attendance to them, expressing how their presence and ideas are significant. Positive reinforcement and words of affirmation further enhance their experience in the classroom and their comfortability in coming to you with any questions or concerns.
Review Policies and Procedures
Review the school’s disciplinary policies. Do they consider students who experience homelessness? Standard school policy and procedure must acknowledge that some students struggle more than others to get their work done outside of school.
Set up your curriculum so that most assignments can be successfully completed without having to take them home. This will ensure that each of your students has a fair opportunity to pass with flying colors.
Communicate with Caregivers
When time allows, talk with students’ parents and caregivers. Communicating with adults involved in your students’ home lives will give you a better idea of how to assist them during class.
How the Community Can Support Students Experiencing Homelessness
If your occupation falls outside of education, there are still plenty of ways to support students experiencing homelessness. You can assist the next generation by partaking in any of the following.
Donating Items To Shelters in Need
Family and youth shelters provide temporary shelter for people of all ages, including children going through school. You can support these shelters that help people experiencing homelessness in different ways, such as donating time, money, or clothing. Some materials that youth and family shelters often need include:
- Socks and undergarments
- Winter clothing and accessories
Be sure to donate items for various ages so that kids can find clothing in a comfortable size.
Destigmatize the Way You Address Homelessness Issues
Consider the way you talk about homelessness in your area and the people it affects. Be sure your dialogue surrounding people who experience homelessness is inclusive and embodies empathy. If you have children, talk with them about the reality of homelessness and how it may impact some of their peers. The first step in combatting homelessness is to destigmatize it.