OPINION: There is no recovery from COVID-19 if we leave millions of children and families behind

Below is an excerpt from an op-ed written by Barbara Duffield, Executive Director of SchoolHouse Connection, on why policymakers must prioritize children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness in their COVID-19 recovery efforts. For the full piece, visit the Thomas Reuters Foundation News website HERE.

COVID-19 has turned every aspect of our personal and working lives upside down. We’re all familiar with feelings of anxiety, frustration, or fear for our health and the health of loved ones, especially with cases rising at alarming rates.

Now imagine you don’t have a safe, permanent place to call home. You don’t have space to distance and protect yourself and your children from getting infected. Shelters are closed or at-capacity due to social distancing restrictions. You try to sleep, not knowing if you’ll sleep in the same place tomorrow. You don’t know when you’ll eat next, or how you’ll get hygiene supplies — a struggle made harder by school building closures, where at least your children could access food and basic resources, health services, and emotional support. You don’t always have wifi where you stay and are unsure how to get a tablet or computer so your child can participate in distance learning and keep up with their schoolwork — which is alarming since high school completion is the best hope for escaping homelessness as adults.

This is the reality of living through a pandemic for millions of families, children, and youth who are homeless. Earlier this year, public schools reported a record of 1.5 million children and youth experiencing homelessness nationwide — a number larger than the population of Dallas, or New Hampshire, that will only increase without the support of open school facilities this fall. With mass unemployment, no protection against proposed eviction bans, and difficulties accessing rental assistance, family homelessness is expected to spike long-term as it becomes even harder for families to remain safely sheltered and housed.

Yet even with an intense focus by federal leaders on relief and recovery legislation, children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness have been largely shut out of response measures. Recent relief legislation — the CARES and HEROES Acts — failed to dedicate funding to the critical programs, professionals, and systems that are best equipped to identify and support children and youth who are homeless. Seeing our communities through this pandemic means seeing everyone through, yet those disproportionately impacted are getting left behind.

To read further and learn why it’s vital for policymakers to pass legislation centered on supporting children, youth and families and breaking generational cycles of homelessness, visit the Thomas Reuters Foundation News website HERE.

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