The number of homeless children attending public schools in the U.S. has doubled since before the 2008 recession, reaching a record national total of 1.36 million in the 2013-2014 school year, according to new federal statistics released Monday.
As the so-called recovery continues to bypass millions of Americans, the new data helps shed light on some of the challenges and expectations that fall on families of homeless children, as well as the schools and teachers who work in low-income areas.
The Washington Post reports:
The impact is profound on public schools, which struggle to try to address the needs of homeless children. Teachers often find themselves working not only to help children learn but also to clothe them, keep them clean and counsel them through problems—including stress and trauma—that interfere with classroom progress.
In addition, federal subsidies for services that aim to help homeless children in schools has not kept pace with the crisis as it increases nationwide.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, during the 2007-2008 school year, there were 794,617 homeless children (pdf) in public schools, while the Department of Education doled out (pdf) between $61.9 and $64.8 million for homeless youth and adult educational services during that same fiscal year. Yet as the numbers of children needing such support soared over the past few years, the DOE's subsidies remained stagnant, never increasing above $65 million in 2014.
"One of the things we note during recessions is that young families and kids tend to be the ones who go into poverty first, almost like a canary in a coal mine," Bruce Lesley, president of the advocacy group First Focus Campaign for Children, told the Post on Monday. "But also in the back end, kids are the last to recover. Because this recession was because of housing, it’s been particularly bad for kids."
It's also bad for teachers. Barbara Duffield, director of policy and programs at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, explained many of the unique challenges that exist for educators who are responsible for homeless students.
"Homeless students may have trouble focusing, there’s more transition, all sorts of things that can be destabilizing for a classroom," Duffield told the Post.
Sonya Shpilyuk, an English teacher at Watkins Mill High School in Maryland, told the Post makes a Costco run every three weeks to keep her classroom stocked with healthy snacks for hungry students.
"The thing about kids who have really troublesome home lives—not just with homelessness but other things, too—is that they have this defeated look on their faces, because they’re trying, and it’s not working," she said. "They're tired, and they’re hungry, and it’s stressful because they don’t know where they’re going after school."