According to a joint study conducted by School House Connection and the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions initiative, approximately 420,000 fewer children and youth experiencing homelessness were identified and enrolled by schools at the start of the 2020-2021 school year, a reduction of 28 percent, compared with the year before. “This does not mean, however, that homelessness actually decreased during the pandemic,” Sarah Merohtra reported for The Education Trust in October 2021. Instead, the decrease reflected challenges in identifying homelessness after schools across the nation resorted to remote instruction: “Without the eyes and ears of educators, and without the ability to have in-person confidential conversations with trusted school staff, many school districts reported lower numbers,” Merohtra explained. (The Education Trust is a nonprofit that works to close opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families.)
Noting that homelessness is “not an identity” but, instead, an “experience” and an “indicator of other vulnerabilities,” Merohtra reported that students of color, students with disabilities, English learners, and students who are LGBTQ+ are among the vulnerable groups that experience homelessness at “disproportionate rates.”
COVID-19 has “exacerbated barriers” that students who are homeless face in education. School district liaisons are reporting “more fear, more trauma, and more barriers to basic needs” for students experiencing homelessness during the pandemic, as well as “reduced shelter capacity, and more fear of congregate shelter.” Lack of access to devices and the internet are further barriers to education for students experiencing homelessness under remote schooling.
The expiration of the CDC’s eviction moratorium, in October 2021, also impacts students experiencing homelessness. In addition to the backlog of eviction cases leading eventually leading to increases in homelessness, the threat of evictions is already “creating greater anxiety among families, students, and educators,” Merohtra reported.
Merohtra’s report concluded with detailed information for state, district, and school leaders to use to help students (and their families) who are at risk of being homeless or who are currently experiencing homelessness. Among these are detailed strategies for how schools can use funding earmarked for K-12 education by the American Rescue Plan Act to identify and support children and youth experiencing homelessness.
Source: Sarah Mehrotra, “Understanding Students and Their Families Who Are Experiencing Homelessness or Housing Insecurity During a Pandemic,” The Education Trust, October 11, 2021.
Student Researcher: Jaida Luck (Saint Michael’s College)
Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (Saint Michael’s College)