The website GradNation.org, an online destination for users to learn more about higher education with the goal of increasing graduation rates, has released a report titled "Hidden in Plain Sight: Homeless Students in America's Public Schools." The report, comprised of interviews and surveys of currently and formerly homeless students, examines the larger issue of student homelessness.
The level of student homelessness is on the rise. More than 1.3 million students identified as homeless during the 2013 – 2014 school year; this is more than double the number of homeless students in the 2006 – 2007 year.
Despite increasing numbers, however, students homelessness remains an invisible problem. These students struggle to stay in school, perform satisfactorily, and develop meaningful networks of peers and adults. They drop out of school at much higher rates than their non-homeless peers. GradNation's report sheds light on the challenges faced by homeless students and offers some policy recommendations to slow the rise of student homelessness.
Homeless students perform considerably worse in school compared to their non-homeless peers; they tend to be chronically absent and have more disciplinary issues. These effects are only intensified the longer a student remains without a home. Students who experience homelessness are disproportionately minorities and LGBTQ students.
Only five states – Colorado, Kansas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming – report high school graduation rates for homeless students. While these rates lag behind their non-homeless peers, they help shed light on the reality of student homelessness. Above all, the issue suffers from a lack of public awareness.
Statistics show that students that are homeless hold bleak outlooks on their future, causing major disruption and trauma in some of their most formative years. For example, 71% say that it has a significant impact on their mental and emotional health, while another 70% say that it affects their ability to feel safe and secure. These feelings undermine their academic performances. Moreover, schools lack the resources, liaisons, and counseling to help homeless students.
Many students also report feeling stigmatized by the issue of homelessness. 67% of respondents reported that they felt uncomfortable talking with other people about the challenge of homelessness, and parents may not want to report their living situation to schools. Thus, analysts suspect the number of homeless students to be much higher than current levels suggest.
The researchers concluded the report by forwarding some recommendations, such as a vision that educators and policymakers expand outreach efforts to inform homeless students of their rights and to raise community awareness. It encourages schools to build connects with community organizations, which have much more experience working with homeless people, and it hopes to set community and national goals around outcomes and graduation rates for homeless students.
Finally, the report urges politicians to increase efforts to provide more affordable housing, which would go a long way to improving these students' academic and social standings.
For interested readers, the full report is available online.