Here’s Why Convenings — In-Person or Virtual — Are So Important to Supporting Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness

In February 2020, SchoolHouse Connection gathered over two dozen local education leaders and advocates in San Antonio. Why? To develop school-based action plans to address the growing child and youth homelessness crisis in San Antonio and nationwide.

Obtaining an education is a student’s best hope of escaping homelessness as an adult — so educators are an integral part of solutions. The San Antonio convening provided the space and the opportunity for public charter schools and district homelessness liaisons to exchange ideas and strategies as they work to support students who are homeless. Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts the lives of students in need, it is more critical than ever to find new ways for advocates to connect and share best practices, even if distant.

SchoolHouse Connection has been hosting bi-weekly virtual conversations on COVID-19 — where we share breaking news and updates, highlight new resources and evolving best practices, facilitate strategy sharing among peers, and answer questions based on existing law and guidance. While it is hard to replace the energy of in-person gatherings, we wanted to continue providing opportunities for our incredible partners to share and discuss what they were learning on the frontlines. It is our hope that these discussions inform response efforts and practices that support children and youth in need throughout this crisis, and beyond.

The need has skyrocketed. Pre-COVID, public schools identified 1.5 million children and youth who were homeless, and with the economic crisis, we’ll likely see that number increase dramatically. School is often the only lifeline for children and youth who are homeless — where they are provided food, shelter, health services, resources to learn, and a supportive network of adults and peers. With schools closed, children and youth who are homeless often cannot access basic needs and have a more difficult time keeping up with school, as they lack consistent access to Wifi and technological resources.

Liaisons and educators are working tirelessly to ensure children and youth have basic needs met, a safe place to socially distance, and resources to participate in distance learning:

  • There are efforts to expand digital access through pre-paid phones, devices, and hotspots; to deliver food, hygiene, and educational supplies; and to help families access motel vouchers and other means of shelter.
  • In Phoenix and Spokane, WA, homeless education coordinators have distributed informational posters to campgrounds, motels, and other areas where families and youth might seek shelter.
  • In San Antonio, school social workers are implementing systems to identify newly homeless students.

Everyday the need evolves, and therefore solutions evolve too. The impacts of the current crisis will unfortunately last far beyond when social distancing measures are lifted and schools re-open their doors. That’s why — in the immediate and long-term, whether virtual or eventually in-person — it is important that we create spaces for those on the frontlines to connect, share and discuss so that we maximize the impact of our efforts. Schools and district homelessness liaisons have always been the first responders to children and youth in need, and the only safety net in both daily life and times of crisis. By bringing together experts and advocates, we can ensure that as many children and youth as possible are supported through this crisis and have the opportunity to grow, thrive, and succeed into adult life.