Rising Rates of Student Homelessness Hurt Our Children, Communities


It’s often hard enough for even the most privileged students to get their homework done each evening. It’s a constant battle with the distractions, and sometime stresses, of family, friends and expectations. Imagine then taking on the challenges of that education while homeless. This is the truth of student homelessness.

The Rising Trend of Student Homelessness

For more than 110,000 young students in New York City alone, this is their reality. According to a state report issued this fall, more than 1 in 10 of the city’s students experienced a period of homelessness during the 2016-17 school year. This troubling number represents a 6% increase over the previous academic year, and is the continuation of a rising trend across the state in the past five years.

Housing shortages and rapidly rising rents and home prices have contributed to housing insecurity across many U.S. communities. As a result, a new generation of students is now living with their families in temporary shelters, in cars and hotels, or bouncing between homes of relatives and family friends.

How Student Homelessness Effects School Communities

The effects of homelessness on school-aged children can be devastating at a critical time in their development. In NYC, it was found that homeless students as a group missed the most school days, on average nearly a month total each academic year. For the very youngest students, those just entering kindergarten programs and first grade, this disadvantage at the start of their school years has the potential for lifelong negative impacts on not only education, but overall wellness.

“The data shows that for multiple years after a student becomes housed, they have increased rates of chronic absenteeism and decreased academic performance,” Liz Cohen, chief of staff of the Institute for Children, Poverty, Homelessness, told The New York Times recently. “That experience stays with them.”

Student Homelessness from NY to Colorado

Across the country in Colorado, this pattern is increasing as well. From 2003 to 2013, the numbers of homeless students statewide tripled from 7,000 to more than 23,000. Of the 8,500 homeless high school students in the state in 2013, 510 dropped out – a rate more than twice that of peers with stable housing.

As detailed in a 2014 Denver Post series, the Colorado community of Aurora struggles to serve the state’s highest population of homeless students. Their outreach by homeless program case managers and school liaisons have found children “living in garages, unfinished basements, and a car parked at a Walmart.” Each day, they connect these homeless students to programs to overcome the multiple social determinants that are barriers to education, including food, shelter, healthcare and reliable transportation.

“This is happening in our backyard,” said Kelley Birschbach, who helps run an after-school program for Aurora’s homeless children in Aurora. “When we don’t know someone, we tend to dehumanize them or create barriers where we stay separate from them. What they are having to go against is way different than what we have to go against.”

Committed to Helping Homeless Students

At Operation Warm, we are committed to helping with our piece in the complex puzzle of supporting homeless students. We’ve experienced how small acts can have an outsized positive impact on our most vulnerable populations. With a warm, new coat, a child is empowered with greater self-esteem and self-worth. We believe this is one key step toward breaking the cycle that perpetuates generational poverty and homelessness.

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