Students Who Are Homeless Need Us Now More Than Ever. And It Starts at the Top.
The following is an excerpt from an op-ed penned by Barbara Duffield, Executive Director of SchoolHouse Connection, on why it’s critical that federal COVID-19 relief efforts prioritize students experiencing homelessness and the programs that serve them. For the full piece, visit Education Post here.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, public schools identified 1.5 million children and youth experiencing homelessness. Tom*, a high school senior in York County, PA, was one of them.
Like many homeless students, Tom struggled with the traumatic events that led to his homelessness — in his case, his mother’s drug addiction and her abusive boyfriend — as well as the daily challenges of finding food and a safe place to sleep. School was the only stable place in his life — a place where, thanks to the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program, his basic needs were met and supportive adults helped him stay on track to graduate.
And then, schools closed.
Tom found a temporary place to stay at a friend’s house, but once the stay-at-home order went into effect, he was asked to leave because of the stress of everyone being home all day in close proximity. At age 17, he is too young to stay in a motel room on his own, and there is no available space at the local shelter. Without other options, Tom now lives in his car. He found work in a convenience store, but needs to find a way to do his schoolwork.
Across the nation, COVID-19 has deepened the trauma and educational disruption of homelessness for millions of students like Tom. They move frequently, cannot shelter in place or self-isolate, and are often without WiFi, devices, or a quiet, stable environment conducive to distance learning. Like Tom, many are left to navigate homelessness without parents.
Even through dire circumstances, children and youth who are homeless can cope, thrive, and succeed as adults through the support of our education system. A regional homeless education coordinator visits Tom three times a week, bringing food and hygiene items. She’s arranged for him to shower at the local shelter and supplies a hotspot for schoolwork. It’s all part of the outreach she conducts to hundreds of children, youth and families through the EHCY program.
Despite the critical support the EHCY program provides to youth and families, the recent COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress failed to direct funds to the program. It simply gave states grants to spend on a range of COVID-19 needs. With competing demands, there is no guarantee that states will direct their grants to the proven programs that are laser-focused on supporting our least visible and most vulnerable children and youth.
To read more and learn about why COVID-19 federal relief efforts must center those most impacted and the programs that support them, visit Education Post here.