Contrary to popular belief, school shouldn’t suck. Education is one of many pathways that can lead individuals to stable and successful lives. Negative experiences that can occur in school often deter kids from wanting to partake in it, like bullying. Bullying sucks. That’s a known fact. However, like most issues in our overgeneralizing society, it’s worth looking into how bullying affects students from different backgrounds, such as those who are unhoused.
According to the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness, 42% of students experiencing homelessness report being bullied, compared to 23% of students who are not.
However, these numbers do not reflect the reality of underreporting. Although educators and entire schools are aware of the existence of bullying, despite their efforts to prevent it from occurring in such spaces, students often do not have full confidence in these adults in power because of how little they would do in a situation.
For students who are unhoused, this lack of trust is magnified because they lack a fundamental support system in their personal lives already. Taking into consideration entire families that are experiencing homelessness, in the midst of all the chaos surrounding the unpredictability of a family’s safety, health, and well-being, it becomes difficult to oversee aspects of a family that housed families would prioritize, like their children.
With the lack of a support system outside of school, students going through homelessness may find it challenging to open up about problems they are facing in school, like being bullied.
On top of this, because the unhoused community is already associated with a stigma that excludes them or categorizes members of this community towards the bottom of the social hierarchy, these students also have a fear of retaliation for reporting bullying.
In relation to the lack of a support system, students going through homelessness who are being bullied in school are more likely to experience depressive symptoms compared to their housed counterparts.
According to a 2021 study published by the University of Delaware in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Science, “psychosocial stress will have deleterious effects on the health and well-being of those with little or no social support, while these effects will be lessened or eliminated for those with stronger support systems.”
In regards to the type of bullying that students who are unhoused experience, most of it attacks the identity and personal situations of said students.
With the prevalence of cyberbullying during our current age of technology, shallow comments targeting the appearance of students going through homelessness (such as their clothing) can be more widely circulated.
Because cyberbullying in a school setting does not necessarily take place at school, these online attacks contribute to the increasing lack of attendance for a student who is unhoused, given that humiliation may deter said student from wanting to go to school.
In addition, other characteristics that become easy targets for bullying include aspects of a student’s identity, such as their race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Homelessness is already a complicated enough issue that affects different people in various ways, and bullying members of the unhoused community on the basis of their separate identities only make their situations worse than it already is.
The reality is that many states don’t allocate any tax revenue to mental health services for people who are unhoused. As mentioned previously, schools themselves aren’t able to solve bullying, let alone how bullying specifically affects students going through homelessness.
Nevertheless, schools have the responsibility of supporting students who are unhoused, given their lack of a support system within their own families. This may manifest itself in actions such as providing students and their families with federal aid programs that they may be eligible for.
As for other steps families can take to ensure comfortability in an educational setting, schools can offer options for tutoring, local after-school programs, as well as supporting the fulfillment of a student’s basic needs such as providing healthy snacks along with assisting in the search for a shower and reliable laundry facilities.
In the classroom environment, teachers can pay more attention to individual situations by establishing an overall welcoming environment. This can include consistent check-ins with students who are unhoused as well as being more sensitive to factors beyond their control.
From a more long-term perspective, teachers can help students experiencing homelessness create an educational plan with the guidance of the school counselor to ensure that they are not falling behind the rest of their classmates.
In the end, bullying against students who are unhoused can’t be completely prevented, but the preventive measures meant to help students must be adhered to for the sake of their livelihoods.