5 Evolving Lessons for Supporting Homeless Students During COVID-19

The following is an excerpt from an op-ed penned by Jordyn Roark, Director of Youth Leadership and Scholarships at SchoolHouse Connection, on how the COVID-19 school closures have had profound impacts on students experiencing homelessness — and practical ways schools and educators can support them during this challenging time. For the full piece, visit Youth Today here.

As a college student, I experienced a devastating hurricane and most of my town was flooded. I remember this experience as being scary, filled with loss and extremely traumatic — on top of the trauma of being homeless. As I navigate my current professional role supporting students who are homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences as a student.

While there are many similarities between hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic, there is one stark difference. As a society, we had the technology to track the hurricane. We knew when it would hit and when it would end. We couldn’t predict the extent of the damage it would cause, but we could at least hold fast to the mantra of “this too shall pass.” There was a date on which we expected to see the sun again. COVID-19 is like an untraceable hurricane.

Homelessness is already a traumatic experience for a young person. The upheaval caused by this outbreak only deepens that trauma. While confronting the tremendous uncertainty of when and how this will end, I have been asking myself, “How do we best support our students amidst the unknown?” Like many, I have been doing my best to navigate this unfamiliar territory day by day.

In just a few weeks, I’ve learned a lot. What’s important is that we balance the immediate, short-term needs of students like food, shelter, and internet access while providing mental and emotional support to address the long-term impacts on children and youth.

I’d like to share some of the strategies I’ve used to support our organization’s scholars — students and young leaders who have experienced homelessness, and whose education we support through scholarships.

Five Ways to Support Homeless Students

  1. Reach out early. Our first goal is to meet the immediate, basic needs of our scholars and young leaders. When the outbreak first started, we reached out to these students individually through text. Looking back, this initial contact was critical, not just for meeting basic needs, but for opening the lines of communication. As a result, our students felt comfortable reaching out as the outbreak progressed, and we’ve been able to immediately meet new needs as they arise.

To read on and learn about Jordyn’s other four evolving best practices schools and educators can take to support students who are homeless through this crisis, visit Youth Today here.

This is hub of expertise and stories to drive solutions around children, youth, and family homelessness. It is a project of SchoolHouse Connection.