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Homeless Students Strain Schools

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Approximately one million homeless kids are struggling with school. Their uphill battle will break your heart.

Homeless Family

Vivian Manning-Schaffel: Imagine having to tell your teacher your homework is late because you had to help your parents pack up and move to a shelter. Or you dozed off in class because you were up worrying about where you were going to sleep the next night.

According to this article in the New York Times, more than one million school-age children in our country are currently homeless.

"The instability of homelessness can be ruinous to schooling," the article quotes educators as saying, for the simple reason that kids already struggling to cope find themselves having to face frequent moves during the school year, and thus missed classes.

This unfortunate, heartbreaking situation has tested school districts already limited by budget cuts as they try to carry out a federal mandate that attempts to salvage the education of these kids, whose lives are filled with "insecurity and turmoil."

"It's hard enough going to school and growing up, but these kids also have to worry where they'll be staying that night and whether they'll eat," said Bill Murdock, chief executive of Eblen-Kimmel Charities, which is based in Asheville, NC, and runs numerous programs to help families in need in the North Carolina area.

According to the Times, "Since 2001, federal law has required every district to appoint a liaison to the homeless who is charged with identifying and aiding families who meet a broad definition of homelessness -- doubling up in the homes of relatives or friends or sleeping in motels or RV campgrounds, as well as living in cars, shelters, or on the streets." Some districts tap federal grants to help the process along.

The law provides some protections for homeless children, allowing them to be placed in school without proof of residence, as well as allowing them to remain in the same school even if their family moves from district to district in search of housing, which helps minimize the amount of time kids are kept out of school. The law also makes it easier for schools and social welfare agencies to work together.

Some of these kids are able to ride special bus services to school from wherever they are living -- shelters, motels, trailer parks, and RV campgrounds -- to facilitate keeping them in their original schools. But providing transportation to the original school is an expensive logistical challenge in large districts like Buncombe County, NC, which covers 700 square miles.

According to Bruce Hunter, associate director of the American Association of School Administrators, "The [law's] protections are important, but Congress has passed the cost to state and local taxpayers." Which brings us to this question: is Congress putting their money where their mouth is?

No child left behind? Really?

Sounds like a lot of these kids will be left behind if they don't come across some help, and soon. It's sad that, in this day and age, there's so little federal aid available for these unwitting victims of the recession. But what saddens me most is the tremendous stress they suffer in just trying to survive and get through another day at school.

Do you think the government could/should step in and help? And if so, how?


next: Set Up Camp
5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Lissalou September 8, 2009, 12:37 PM

My mom forbade us to mention to anyone at school that we were homeless. She was terrified the state would take us away (they eventually did). She used her sister in law’s address as ours on the paperwork and her phone number too. Getting to school each day depended on where we slept that night and how far we had to go to get there. Shelters make you leave for the day usually by 8 am so we generally made it. We missed alot and were deeemed lazy by several teachers when we didnt show up on time or had not completed homework. They had no clue that we were homeless, and to be honest I don’t think many cared.

Anonymous September 8, 2009, 10:39 PM

Boo Hoo

Jennifer  September 9, 2009, 9:51 AM

This is very hard. How do you send your child to school in these tough circumstances. Maybe more teachers, or anyone who has the time and knowledge offer some help. Maybe a study center at the shelters. I will look into this further myself, thanks for a great post

Allison December 7, 2009, 3:19 PM

I don’t think people truely realize how big of an issue this is. I was homeless for the last 6 months of my senior year of highschool last year and it was horrible. Living in a shelter is NOT easy. I was surrounded by obnoxious women and their bad children, recovering drug addicts, alcoholics, the mentally unstable and the list goes on. Sure, there were normal people, but not many. Trying to concentrate on school work is very difficult when you’re sitting there worrying if someone is stealing your belongings back at the shelter. Or even online assignments. Because I couldn’t drive I had to rely on the couple hours I spent at my (now ex)boyfriend’s house to do homework because I had to be back at the shelter by 7:30pm or risk being kicked out. The list of these instances goes on! It’s quite frustrating when no one really understands your situation.

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