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Insightful Report: Addressing 5 Crucial Questions on Student Homelessness

It’s officially summer. For many students, that means vacations, pools, and fun in the sun.

But for homeless students throughout the country, summer time is a period in which the safety, engagement, and even nutrition provided by schools is no longer available.

While school districts across the country are working with local governments and community-based organizations to mitigate the effects and even eliminate homelessness, the number of students nationally who face homelessness has risen in recent years.

According to a new report from the non-profit Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH), 1.3 million public school students were counted as homeless in the 2014-2015 school year.  That’s a 19 percent rise from 2010.

The report goes on to assess and rank states by ability to identify and serve homeless students. Oregon and New York state top the list, while Tennessee and Mississippi come in at the bottom.

While the rankings can help school leaders identify successful approaches to fighting student poverty, one of the most important takeaways of the study is the criteria on which the rankings are based.

As you work with others in your community to address student homelessness, here are five questions to help you assess your approach based on the factors ICPH used to develop its rankings.

1. Do you have a strong, affordable head start program?

As ICPH points out, homelessness is often a cyclical and generational issue. Homeless students are often the children of parents who faced homelessness when they were kids. Poverty has a compounding effect, so students dealing with the day-to-day challenges of homelessness often times fall behind in school. This makes them more susceptible to poverty when they grow up. A quality head start program helps engage students early, inspires quality learning as they grow, and helps break the cycle of poverty.

2. Do you have a quality pre-Kindergarten program?

Pre-K programs also play an important role in engaging students early. As districts and states expand their pre-K programs, the ICPH report says schools should emphasize preparing homeless students for kindergarten.

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3. How are you identifying and monitoring homeless students?

While most districts and states identify students facing poverty in their schools, ICPH recommends that school leaders seek a clearer understanding of the problem in their districts. As the report points out:

“While we can’t know precisely how many homeless children should be identified within a given state or municipality, this measure is our best proxy for highlighting areas where perhaps students are under-identified. Without identification, services and resources cannot be appropriately allocated.”

4. Are you accounting for students who are “doubled up?”

According to ICPH, more than 75 percent of homeless students stay temporarily with another family or household due to economic challenges. ICPH refers to these students as “doubled up.” These students often miss out on critical support and education programs because their families are unaware of the availability of support services or are hesitant to identify themselves as homeless. Identifying students who are doubled up in your community can help to ensure that students get the support they need.

For more on how to recognize and support students facing homelessness, read Student homelessness is a harsh reality. How schools can help.

5. How do you ensure homeless students with disabilities are identified and evaluated?

Because of the disconnect between homeless families and support services, ICPH says that homeless students with disabilities are often not identified until late into elementary school. That means that students who should have Individualized Education Programs and special attention early on, often fall further behind. To ensure that all students have an opportunity to keep pace, ICPH suggests that districts create stronger processes for identifying and serving students with special needs.

What steps is your school district taking to identify and help homeless students? How can your state better-support your efforts to fight poverty in your schools? Tell us in the comments.