Are districts providing enough support for homeless students?

Ongoing professional development is key if district leaders want their educators to identify and support homeless students
By: | December 4, 2019
In some districts, such as this school system near Chicago, employees purchase Christmas presents for homeless students.In some districts, such as this school system near Chicago, employees purchase Christmas presents for homeless students.

A statewide audit has found several California school districts have undercounted homeless students, and may have thus deprived them of key services, The Sacramento Bee and several other news outlets reported.

In 2017-18, there were 4.3 million economically disadvantaged K-12 students in California, including 274,714 who were homeless, the newspaper reported, citing state education department data.

“We determined that the (local districts) we reviewed could do more to identify and support these youth, and that (the education department) has provided inadequate oversight of the state’s homeless education program,” California State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote in a public letter, according the newspaper.


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One in 3 students is homeless in the San Ysidro School District on California’s border with Mexico, 10News-TV reported.

In the 2018-19 school year, 80 students were living in trailers parked on campgrounds, 71 were living in hotels or motels, and 31 were unsheltered in parks or gas stations, Veronica Medina, the district’s student and family services manager, told the station. “Where you see the steering wheel, where the driver usually sits in a motorhome, it’s divided into a bedroom and usually that’s where all the children sleep,” Medina told News10.

On the other side of the country, the city of Washington, D.C. will a launch a shuttle service for homeless students to schoolThe Washington Post reported.

The shuttles will run to Metro stops from hotels where the city has placed homeless families. “We will be able to save a considerable amount of time each way for the children and their families,” Noah Abraham, a deputy administrator with D.C.’s Department of Human Services, told The Post. 

Removing the stigma of ‘unstable housing’

Ongoing professional development is key if district leaders want their educators to identify and support homeless studentsDistrict Administration reported earlier this year.


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“Teachers have their eyes and ears on students for the majority of the day, so they’re in a position to notice who changes their behavior or falls asleep or is talking about moving around—things that might trigger a deeper conversation,” Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a nonprofit dedicated to overcoming homelessness through education, told DA.

In Florida, Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Project UP-START identifies and provides attendance and academic support to students who endure “unstable housing.”

Simply referring to homelessness as “unstable housing” has led to increased participation by students and families, Debra Albo-Steiger, the district’s homeless student liaison, told DA.

“There’s a lot of pride in our community, and the word ‘homeless’—that stereotypical person under the bridge—carries a lot of stigma,” Albo-Steiger said. “We ask if you know anyone in ‘unstable housing’ and then provide a list of our services. It removes the stigma, and gets out the word in a nonthreatening way.”


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