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Students Experiencing Homelessness: How You Can Support Them

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Written by Andrea Summers, Family & Community Partnership Liaison, ESC of Central Ohio

November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, a time for us to consider the challenges faced by students and families experiencing homelessness. From the complexities navigating ESSA protections, overwhelming paperwork requirements to leverage community resources, not to mention the emotional toll felt, our children often bear the brunt of homelessness, with interrupted learning that often impacts their long-term educational success.  
 
National data tells us that one in 10 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 and at least one in 30 adolescents between age ages of 13 and 17 experience some form of homelessness over the course of a year. LGBTQ youth experienced homelessness at more than twice the rate as their peers and are more likely to experience adversities before and during homelessness. Factor in too juvenile justice-involved or children in foster care who additionally face multiple factors that increase their risk of homelessness. (Chapin Hall at The University of Chicago, https://www.chapinhall.org/history/our-capabilities/)

Our schools have become the key setting to prevent, identify, and protect youth and families experiencing homelessness and facing housing insecurity. This begs us to then ask, what are our systems level solutions to best support our children experiencing homelessness with fidelity, care, and compassion? 
 
Relationships Matter 
 
A whole-child approach, where partnerships are central and relationships are key, can aid us in solving and addressing youth and families' homelessness. We must ensure our schools are a safe and trusted place for youth, where relationships and connections are central to our work. Ultimately, relationships matter – relationships with our students who then share information to help us identify housing instability; relationships with our community partners who offer broadened support to our families and schools; and ultimately, relationships with families matter too wherein, families see our schools as a trusted and supportive resource-rich spaces, committed to ensuring the educational success of our children. 
 
Ask yourself and consider elevating your efforts by answering the following questions:  
  • How are school staff ensuring strong relationships and connections with students and families? 
  • Do staff possess awareness and compassion for the emotional duress of homelessness and are they aware of the key markers of homelessness and housing instability? 
  • How are families encouraged to see their child’s school as supportive and resource rich? 

Strengthening our Systems 
 
When our relationships are strong, students will likely disclose housing disruptions and key school staff such as Social Workers, School Liaisons, Counselors or Administrators can offer additional support and linkage to community partner services. In leveraging whole child approaches, we too integrate partnerships with trusted community partners who can assist with housing instability.?In partnership, we can work to ensure educational stability for our students, keeping them in school and on track.  
 
As a next step, administrative leaders should collaborate with staff to ask and define the following questions:  
  • Who are your school’s key staff who could offer additional support and link to services?  
  • How are school staff to make referrals for additional support? Are staff aware of the process? 
  • How is your district McKinney Vento Liaison ensuring no disruptions to educational stability?  
Pausing to reflect on these central questions allows us an opportunity to build upon our current efforts and strengthen opportunities to further ensure educational stability for our children and families. Schools are not in this alone and with a whole child, partnership-framed mindset, we can broaden our support for our collective goals, the educational success of all children.  
 
Leverage Additional Support 
 
If your school or district is looking to grow its resources and community partner support, is seeking to strengthen family engagement practices and MTSS systems to ensure success for all students, please contact Andrea Summers, Family & Community Partnership Liaison at [email protected].
 
If your district needs support in determining how to use federal funds in support of youth and families experiencing homelessness, contact Federal Coordinator, Regina Lukich at [email protected].
 
If you need technical assistance ensuring ESSA protections are followed and or a McKinney Vento Liaison needs additional support and assistance, please contact Susannah Wayland, State Homeless Education Coordinator, [email protected].
 
Need additional technical assistance and resources to serve families and youth, visit https://cohhio.org/.

Want to learn more about the experience of homelessness in Ohio?  
 
Read a recent NYT article taking an in-depth look at what students and families experience while facing housing insecurity and homelessness. 
 
Language-setting is also important in these conversations with both staff, students, and families. Be sure that you are using the right terminology when referring to youth experiencing homelessness by checking out this article
 


Andrea Summers serves as the Family & Community Partnership Liaison on the SOS Team at the ESC of Central Ohio. With more than 20 years’ experience as an educator and administrator in Out-of-School Time (OST) and co-curricular and experiential learning programs, Andrea's expertise will guide districts in implementing effective family engagement and community partnerships strategies. Andrea will work with districts and schools to promote and embed effective systems that serve all youth, but specifically our community’s most vulnerable (i.e. those experiencing homelessness, in foster care, English learners, those with disabilities, migrant, military and justice involved). Andrea holds an M.S. in Nonprofit Management, with a concentration on Education Policy, from The New School in NYC. She earned her B.A. from Antioch College in Sociology/Anthropology with a focus on Education. She is certified in Adaptive Schools & Cognitive Coaching through Thinking Collaborative.