Homeless Students Uniquely Challenged by COVID-19 Pandemic

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

The COVID-19 pandemic and remote schooling have posed unique challenges for homeless students, according to a June 2021 report for Truthout by Eleanor J. Bader. Although the pandemic has impacted all students, its most significantly impacts have been on those who are, or have become, homeless. These impacts include breakdowns in basic resources often provided by schools, such as food, clothing, and access to showers and internet. For instance, when the country’s  2,500 school-based health centers were shuttered, more than six million students lost  in-person access to physical and mental health care, Bader reported. Combined with lost social connections and a sense of belong, these impacts make learning more difficult, even for students who previously had done well in school. COVID-19 has also forced many formerly housed students into homelessness. “Even more troubling,” Bader wrote,  a significant percentage of students, “both those who were homeless before the pandemic and those who became homeless at some point during it — have simply gone missing.”

According to a November 2020 report produced by Poverty Solutions, based at the University of Michigan, and SchoolHouse Connection, a Washington, D.C. homeless advocacy organization, estimates that 423,164 students who were identified as homeless in 2019 “may not be in school at all, or receiving basic needs and educational supports.” While the identification and enrollment of homeless students is down, in fact the number of children and youth experiencing homelessness has likely increased due to the economic crisis, according to the report.

As Bader reported, the plight of homeless students in the pandemic cannot be separated from the need for affordable housing. Although millions of tenants across the country face eviction, federal education relief funds are not reaching homeless families, children, and youth. “The scarcity of affordable housing made the pandemic worse,” Sarah Saadian, vice president of public policy at the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), told Truthout. “We need to build back a better housing system for everyone.”

Though Bader’s article also discusses some of the positive effects of remote learning, such as reduced bullying and more flexible, asynchronous class schedules, overall homeless students have lacked the resources, communication tools, and support systems necessary for academic success during the pandemic.

Many establishment publications have covered how students were impacted by COVID-19, but they have not covered the connection between homelessness and education, or the specific challenges facing homeless students. An August 2021 CNN article addressed the concerns of families for their children’s educational and social development under remote learning.  But CNN’s coverage made no mention homeless or housing-insecure students and the challenges identified in Bader’s report. A July 2021 Washington Post article covered the difficulties that families have faced during the lockdown and the struggles of low-income students returning to in-person schooling. Although this article mentioned housing-insecure students, it did address the connection between affordable housing and education. Overall, while the establishment press has produced a great deal of coverage on how lockdowns have impacted student learning, and on the links between COVID-19 and homelessness, this coverage has not adequately addressed the pandemic’s sweeping impacts on homeless students specifically. The establishment press has left  homeless students and housing reform out of the discussion of education and COVID-19.

Source: Eleanor J. Bader, “COVID Shutdowns Hurt Homeless Students. School Reopenings Bring New Challenges,” Truthout, June 7, 2021.

Student Researchers: Colin Bussiere, Kat Goodman, and James Kirk (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)