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The Impacts of Homelessness on Children and Their Education

Jessi Wilkening

Edina High School

Author Note

This paper was prepared for Pre-AP English 10 hour 3 taught by Mrs. Roehl.

Over 1.3 million children in the united States are homeless and this number continues to

grow every year. These children's education is negatively impacted and this is shown by their

performance in school. While 80% of homeless youth are signed up for school, less than 60%

attend their classes regularly (Thompson, 2016). Teachers are sometimes unaware of what these

children are experiencing, so they and the district do not know how to help them succeed. Often

times homeless youth struggle in school because of many factors relating to their physical, social

and mental health outside of the school day. While many communities and school districts are

starting to take action and try to solve this problem, we still have a long way to go to make sure

that all children get an equal chance at an education that will help them succeed in their future.

Some of the many reasons that children who are experiencing homelessness are not performing

well in school may be because they are constantly moving around, they are exposed to violence,

a lack of help with their schoolwork, their nutritional needs are not being met and they have no

transportation to school so they have very poor attendance rates. However, by increasing security

at shelters, lowering mandatory fees, providing support services at public spaces, expanding

affordable transportation options and creating after-school and during-school help programs,

communities can solve this problem.

A key reason that homeless students are not performing well in school is because they are

constantly moving from place to place and have no stable home to live in. Often, homeless

families have to move nearly everyday because it is very difficult for them to find a safe, legal,

place to sleep at night. Between 2011 and 2014, the National Law Center on Homelessness &

Poverty found that bans on sleeping in cars shot up 119 percent, citywide camping prohibitions

jumped 60 percent, anti-loitering laws increased 35 percent and anti-begging laws increased 25

percent in a survey of 187 cities (Jouvenal, 2016, p A.1). Because of the increasing laws which

prohibit homeless people to sleep outdoors, many more are finding themselves in legal trouble

and are having to move around more often. This causes many homeless families to take their

children out of school completely (Jouvenal, 2016, p A.1). However, some families can keep

their students in school, but not usually in the same school district. This can make it very

difficult to make friends. Homeless can take a toll on how children interact with their peers at

school. Many of them are forced to move around so much that it becomes very difficult for them

to connect with people. (Kristof, 2016, p. A.27). This can lead to poor performance levels in

school because homeless children tend to feel very anxious about social pieces of the school day

which leaves them with very little time, or energy to think about academic activities.

Another reason that homeless children's test scores are not up to standards is because they

are exposed to violence and traumas outside of school. While most people would assume that

this violence is happening on the streets, violence can also occur in homeless shelters. Violence

in homeless shelters across the United States is becoming an increasing issue and causing many

problems and dangers for families living in these shelters (Hinkley, 2016). 83 percent of

homeless children have been exposed to at least one serious violent event by the age of 12 and

almost 25 percent have witnessed acts of violence within their families (Hinkley, 2016).

Exposure to violent acts does not help with children's brain development. Traumas such as

violence can flood a child's brain with a stress hormone, cortisol, and impair brain development

(Kristof, 2016, p. A.27). This can also affect how a child performs during the school day. If a

child is constantly worried about their own safety, or safety of their family members, then they

will not have to ability to focus on academic work which leads them to lower test scores.

Even if homeless children are able to go to school, and are working hard during the

school day, they do not have people or resources to help them with homework during after

school hours. A housed-student is able to go home after school and ask parents or older-sibling

for help with classwork. However, this is not the case for many homeless children. Over of all

leading members of homeless families in the United States do not have a college education and

over half of that did not graduate high school (Brown, 2105, p A.1). This can be a problem for

homeless students because if they need help with their work, they have no one who can help

them.This could make it more difficult to complete their work which leads gaps in major

learning concepts. Also, homeless students may not have regular access to computers or books.

With the increase in online education, this causes many problems for homeless students. They

are not able to go home and complete internet-required class work, as their housed-classmates

would be able to do. Homeless students are usually not very open to others about their lack of

resources so it makes it very difficult for teachers and other adults to make special arrangements

for their classwork (Jouvenal, 2016, p A.1). Instead, homeless kids have to rely on their own

knowledge to figure out assignments that they are unable to complete without special resources.

Often, this leads to incomplete assignments and low academic performance levels.

Another factor that contributes to low-performance levels is that fact that many homeless

kids nutritional needs are not being met. This can be because of many different reasons. If a

family is staying on the streets or not in a shelter of some kind then their kids are most likely not

being fed enough. Even if they are being fed enough, they are also not getting all of the proper

nutrients. This can lead to students brains not developing correctly. Also, some homeless

students are too preoccupied with the thought of their hunger, or thinking about where they are

going to find their next meal, that they dont have time for or they forget to do their schoolwork.

The World Health Organization has looked into this problem and has come up with a statement

that they recently shared with the public: The lack of a balanced diet including essential

nutrients can cause substantial negative impacts on children's brain development (Lal, 2016).

Homeless students also usually are not eating three proper meals a day. This can mostly be seen

by the fact that many of them are not eating breakfast. Thousands of American students go to

school everyday without eating anything before hand. This poor choices leads to poor test scores.

Students who consume breakfast on a regular basis have an increased performance rate of over

40% (Lal, 2016). However, this may not be an option for many homeless students so they do not

have a choice but to wait until lunch for their bodies to get essential nutrients.

The final reason that homeless youth are negatively affected in school is because they are

unable to get transportation to class which leads to very poor attendance rates. Transportation is

known to be one of the greatest problem for homeless youth. This is because many of them do

not have any transportation or live to far away to receive transportation (Thompson, 2016).

Students who are living at homeless shelters do not have any way to get to school. While many

students have access to school transportation, a family car, or have their parents drive them to

school, this is not an option for homeless kids. Many times, this kids come from families without

cars to transport them. Sometimes, the entire family has one car to use but instead of using it to

take their children to school, homeless parents keep all their possessions in the car, or use the car

themselves to look for work (Thompson, 2016). It is also very difficult for homeless students to

use the schools transportation services. Most public schools do not offer busing services outside

of a certain area which many shelters tend to fall outside of. These kids are also unable to get a

bus pass for school because their families can not afford the cost of a bus pass. When a student

does not have a ride to school, they are unable to attend class which leads to their attendance

rates dropping. Not being in classes causes students to miss essential information. Homeless

children are especially vulnerable to chronic absence and poor grades (Thompson, 2016)."

Missing class often can lead homeless kids to only learning part of the curriculum simply

because they were not in the classroom when it was being taught. This causes homeless students

to not be prepared for exams and their test scores are negatively reflected.

While the test-scores of homeless students are a problem, there are some things that are

being done to try to improve them. One of these solutions is increasing security in shelters. Cities

around the United States are all making an effort to increase security. Many cities are increasing

the number of police and the amount of hours police are at the homeless shelters (Hinkley,

2016). Decreasing the amount of violence that a child is exposed to will help them mentally. If a

student is able to come home to a shelter everyday where they know that they will be safe and

protected, they will have more time to focus on their academic work. Also, many homeless

students witness acts of violence within their families. This causes many students to be

constantly worried about the safety of their family members. Providing counselors and

safe-places in shelters will help relieve some of the worry in these students (Hinkley, 2016).

With no worry of violence in their lives, homeless kids will have more space in their brain, and

more time after-school to work on classwork and be prepared for the school day.

Another way that homeless students are able to perform better in school is when schools

lower the cost of mandatory fees. While public school is supposed to be free, there are many

costs that go along with it. These range from school supplies to lunch fees. For homeless

families, the biggest problem is the ability to pay for school lunch. As of 2015, Nearly 20 million

school children receive a free lunch through the National School Lunch Program (Kauffman,

2016). Schools have helped by lowering the standards to qualify for free/reduced lunches and by

providing the opportunity for scholarships for mandatory fees to ALL students, not just homeless

(Kauffman, 2016). This is important because while some students may not qualify as homeless,

their families are still unable to afford lunch so it is very helpful that the school pays for their

child's lunch. Lunches are also very healthy so homeless children are getting the proper nutrients

that they need to learn and grow (Kauffman, 2016). Schools all over America are continuing to

offer free/reduced lunches to students. Along with lunch, many classroom fees are being cut to

help accommodate for low-income families (Kauffman, 2016). It makes school a much easier

experience for homeless children when they, and their families do not have to worry about how

they are going to afford school supplies or the cost of classroom field trips.

A third solution to this problem is helping these students by setting up support services at

public, easy-to-access spaces. A great place to do this is at libraries. Libraries are safe, open for

long hours, and offer everything from public bathrooms to a place for people to search for online

job listings (Quinton, 2016). Certain cities around the country are starting to do this. Many

libraries in Washington DC have started to form help-centers. These libraries have majorly

helped homeless students by creating a space for them to do their homework while the parents

can also receive help and information. Many homeless students need help with their schoolwork

but because they do not have a proper home, they are unable to get it. Libraries are helpful to

them because there are many books and computers and tutors there to help with anything needed.

Some things that we can do in libraries (like in DC), are partner with nonprofits, hire social

workers and educate homeless on ways that they can start improving their lives. (Quinton,

2016). For homeless families in DC, these support services have helped them improve their

lives. Library officials have looked at students who used their services and their performance

levels in school. Those who used supportive services also were more likely to stay out of

trouble, attend school, stop substance abuse, and take part in job-training programs (Mendoza,

2016). Setting up spaces for help, such as libraries, in every community will significantly help

homeless families in the area.

Another action that schools across America are taking to help homeless students is by

increasing transportation options for them. Many school districts are starting to increase their

area ranges for bus pickup. This helps homeless children because if they live farther away, they

will now have a better chance of getting transportation to school, which will increase their

attendance and therefore, their academic performance. The 2017 budget proposes a 21 percent

increase for homeless education, according to the U.S. Education Department (Thompson,

2016). Some ideas for what to put this money into have been greatly focused on how to get

these students to school. An idea is to create a shuttle bus from shelters to schools. This would be

a free option for homeless families living in shelters. (Thompson, 2016). This would help out

homeless families because a shuttle would be able to bring many students to school in one trip.

This would help homeless families because it would be one less thing for them to worry about,

knowing that their kids have a way to arrive at school everyday to receive an education.

The final way that we can see an improvement in homeless children's test scores is if the

school districts themselves get involved. Schools districts can make an impact by helping kids

with their school work. Creating after-school help programs will help kids graduate on time and

get a good start for their future (Brown, 2105, p A.1). It is very easy for schools to set aside

classrooms and resources for students to go to during the day to receive help on classwork. This

helps homeless students because they will now be able to receive help and feedback on

classwork rather than attempting to complete everything on their own. A school that has started

some of these ideas is the Jennings school district. The Jennings School District does many

things to help homeless children. They help run food banks, they help families with access to

pediatricians and other medical help. They also help provide basic needs such as clothing and

access to washers and dryers (Brown, 2105, p A.1). The Superintendent of Jennings schools says

that all of these things they are doing to help caused an increase in their schools tests scores and

overall happier students (Brown, 2105, p A.1). If other school districts follow their example, we

will see a continuation of this pattern resulting in many more happy and successful students.

Through all of these helpful actions, we can make our country a better place for everyone

to live. If communities work together, we will start to see a decrease in homelessness which will

lead to less of a homeless population overtime. The more educated students that we have, more

of them will be able to find high-paying jobs, creating a better working class in America. This

will cause an overall economic growth helping our country as well as its people. Most

importantly, a decrease in homelessness causes everyone in America to be healthier and happier.



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