California’s Homeless Student Issue
by Susan Chen, December 14, 2021
In California, three percent of students make up the homeless population which means that in an average school of 2,000 people, 60 students are homeless. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (which ensures that homeless students have access to free public education) defines homeless children and youth as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.
As a student myself, it is hard to imagine what it would be like to have the stress of school on top of having to find a place to sleep every night or even having to worry about where I might find my next meal. Yet, these are just a few of the issues that a grand total of around 271,520 homeless students in California (from 2018-2019) 7,633 of them being unaccompanied– meaning that they are not in the physical custody of a parent or court-appointed guardian–face.
Because most students are under the age of 21, it means that a lot of the solutions for combatting homelessness in their situation relies heavily on state policy change. Many laws directly impact youth experiencing homelessness – the rights of minors, health care, housing, employment, education, and child welfare.
A very recent change that I have seen on my school campus is the change the state made to make school lunches free. Policies like these are vital in ensuring that food insecurity and health risks in students can be combated as much as possible. However, I have hardly heard any conversation about homeless students in my school. Whether this is because of the area I live in or the negligence on the district/school’s side, I feel that it is an important conversation to have. Especially for the students who happen to face housing or any other sort of issues outside of school, being informed on the resources they have could greatly benefit their quality of life. Even if many students right now are not homeless, situations can change very quickly and if a student has suddenly found themselves facing homelessness and a load of new issues, knowing what they can do to help themselves and having a support system at school is a great step towards ensuring their wellbeing.
Identifying students facing housing security is a challenge especially since there is often a fear of stigmatization, inadequacy in the staff training (for identification), and uneven school reporting procedures complicating the process in aiding students. Finding a way to help students facing housing insecurity starts with identifying and informing homeless students on what resources they have and state policy change.
A lot of the problems mentioned all boil down to money. What I believe would help support homeless students is to direct funding under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act towards assisting students facing homelessness. Other actions the state could take are: Increasing investments towards schools in individualized assistance in meeting students’ needs; Providing better training towards teachers and staff in not only identifying but also working with homeless students to accommodate for their conditions.
Helping students facing housing insecurity requires state policy change and starting the conversation in schools. Bringing awareness towards the issue is just the beginning for the destigmatization of homelessness.