Returning to School in Tumultuous Times: Resources to Encourage Dialogue and Learning

Many students and educators will return to school this year with anxiety and fear about the future — concerns resulting from ongoing trends and recent events, including the continuing pandemic, racially discriminatory book bans and gag orders, increasing discrimination against LGBTQᐩ people, the rising toll of gun violence, and the restrictions on reproductive health care.

While these issues impact all students, when we look at who is most likely to experience homelessness, we see that each of these issues is particularly relevant for students who are homeless.

We recognize that SHC’s network is diverse, with diverging political and personal views. What we have in common, however, is a steadfast belief in the potential of every child and youth to succeed, and the critical role of education — from early childhood through postsecondary — to help them avoid homelessness as adults.

This blog provides information, practical tools, and opportunities for learning and dialogue. We wish to support you, and the children and youth you serve, and invite you to share your thoughts on how we can best do so in these tumultuous times.

Race, Ethnicity, and Sexual Identity/Expression and Homelessness

Students who experience homelessness are disproportionately students of color:

  • Black or African American students comprise only 13% of all high school students, but represent 20.3% of high school students experiencing homelessness.
  • Hispanic or Latino students comprise 25.6% of all high school students, but represent 35.9% of high school students experiencing homelessness.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) students comprise 1.4% of all high school students, but represent 1.6% of high school students experiencing homelessness. Other studies show much greater disparities, and that AIAN young adults had three times the prevalence rate of homelessness as their White non-Hispanic peers.

High school students who identify as LGBTQ+ also are more likely to experience homelessness:

  • High school students who identify as LGBQ are over twice as likely to experience homelessness than heterosexual students.
  • Transgender high school students are over nine times more likely to experience homelessness than cisgender students.

Book bans, gag orders, and other efforts to restrict discussion of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in schools whitewash our nation’s true history, and hurt students by erasing their identities and increasing intolerance, racism, homophobia, and transphobia. Students of color who experience homelessness are more likely to be subjected to punitive school discipline measures, feeding into a school-to-prison pipeline and continued homelessness.

Students of color and LGBTQᐩ students are facing increasingly discriminatory policies that are traumatic and harmful and will only serve to push more young people out of school and into dangerous situations — including homelessness.

Resources:

Pregnancy and Homelessness

The relationship between pregnancy and homelessness in high school, and in young adulthood, is clear:

  • High school students who are pregnant or have gotten someone pregnant are ten times more likely to experience homelessness than those who were not pregnant or had not gotten someone pregnant. This makes pregnancy the highest correlation with high school homelessness of all the CDC’s youth risk behaviors that we have examined to date.
  • Pregnancy and parenting is the second highest risk factor for experiencing homelessness as a young adult; in fact, 43% of 18- to 25-year-old young women experiencing homelessness have at least one child.

Youth who carry their pregnancy to term — whether it is their choice, or whether they have no choice — confront the myriad challenges that come with being a young parent, including being much more likely to drop out of school. They need access to quality prenatal care, health care, child care, safe and stable housing options, and educational and other support.

Resources:

The Mental Health Crisis and Homelessness

All of these disturbing trends come on top of a worsening mental health crisis for youth, with life-or-death consequences, especially for students experiencing homelessness:

  • High school students experiencing homelessness are 4.39 times more likely to attempt suicide compared to stably housed youth.
  • High school students experiencing homelessness are 2.59 times more likely to be bullied on school property or electronically compared to their stably housed peers.

Youth mental health challenges are exacerbated by the rising toll of violence in schools, including gun violence. Schools and early childhood programs should be places of safety, stability, and support for all students, especially those who experience adversity. Yet school shootings add terror to the very basic and fundamental act of going to school and supporting students in school.

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Advocacy in Tumultuous Times

SHC will continue to advocate for resources to support quality care and education, prenatal through postsecondary. We will deepen our work in states and at the federal level to remove barriers to lifesaving supports, early care, education, health care (including mental health care), and employment. We will continue to provide responsive practical assistance and tools to support schools and other education programs in the day-to-day work of identifying and serving children, youth, and families. And we will support nonpartisan voter mobilization efforts, particularly among young people, so that they can exercise their own agency to shape the political systems that will determine their futures.

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SchoolHouse in Session

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