There are many students dealing with issues related to homelessness that would greatly benefit from the assistance they are not currently receiving. For years, the number of cases of youth experiencing homelessness has been rising until a sudden drop in 2020, which indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it increasingly difficult to identify how many students may be struggling with homelessness-related issues.
In 2019-20, the state of California reported that 194,709 students had experienced homelessness at one point throughout the school year. The number of cases has dropped 6.2% from the previous year. This is alarming given the fact that this number is likely underestimating the actual amounts of students experiencing homelessness. Why is this underestimation occurring? COVID-19 has made it increasingly more difficult for schools to identify students experiencing homelessness due to many schools opting for remote learning. Students who are identified as unhoused are able to access resources while those who are not will be without those resources.
Many schools distribute questionnaires in which students self-identify as experiencing homelessness-related issues. Teachers, coaches, counselors, and other staff may also identify a student as homeless. According to EdSource, there are a number of reasons a student may not be identified, which include schools failing to distribute questionnaires, parents who are hesitant due to fear of losing custody of their children, and many students may not being in and out of homelessness in which they originally reported as no but may go through issues throughout the school year. COVID-19 has made this process even more difficult with many students not having the same interactions with school staff as they would in person. If students decide not to attend classes, there is no way to identify whether or not their attendance is due to issues they may be facing due to homelessness or something unrelated.
According to the California Department of Education, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is legislation that ensures the educational rights and protections of children and youth experiencing homelessness. According to the McKinney-Vento Act, children and youth who are experiencing issues related to homelessness have the right to immediate enrollment, transportation which includes pick-up meals and distance learning items, and academic access and success. When it becomes harder to identify the students who are experiencing homelessness, these children are not able to access the resources they should.
Students in need of assistance are not getting the help they need and the numbers being reported are not a true indication of the issue at hand. There are many students who would greatly benefit from the resources that they are entitled to. School boards need to find new and improved solutions in identifying and assisting their students in need. Communities must also come together and demand change for the students who are our future.