A Safe Space for All: How to Support Homeless Students in the Classroom

Aug 9, 2019 by

As much as we want all children to have a safe and happy place to go after school every day, the unfortunate truth is that many of America’s young people are affected by homelessness. Some are homeless with their families, while tens of thousands of others are trying to make it on their own without the support of a parent or guardian.

Public schools play a major role in the lives of children and teens experiencing homelessness. In 2014-2015, there were approximately 1,263,323 kids identified as homeless by schools in the United States. That number has been increasing, and teachers need to understand the important role they play in these students’ lives during a vulnerable time. Let’s take a look at how educators can create a safe space for homeless youth in the classroom and provide the support that these kids need during a difficult time.

First Things First: Understand How Teachers Can Make a Difference

Teachers do much more than educate, of course. They help provide stability, encouragement, and assistance with academic and personal challenges students may be facing. Although teachers can’t solve all of the problems that a child experiencing homelessness may face, there are many ways they can make a positive difference.

One of the simplest ways to create a safe space for students with housing insecurity is to be sensitive about the issue. Maintain the student’s privacy and be mindful of activities requiring students to bring food or other items from home, as a child experiencing homelessness may not be able to participate.

Teachers can also help direct families to resources for basic needs and ensure a classroom structure that is stable and welcoming to all students. This might include carving out time during the day to complete schoolwork so that students facing housing insecurity won’t fall behind if they don’t have an appropriate environment for completing their assignments.

Can’t Help if You Aren’t Aware: The Importance of Identification

One of the toughest aspects of helping homeless students is identifying them. Being homeless doesn’t necessarily mean living on the streets, although many families are completely unsheltered. Many families are living in temporary or “transitional” situations, including hotels, cars, campgrounds, and emergency or domestic violence shelters.

Most students experiencing homelessness have some degree of embarrassment surrounding the issue or have been told not to speak up about their living situation for fear that they may be separated from their families and put into foster care.

Unfortunately, this can make identifying students who need extra support difficult. School districts must make an effort to inquire about students’ living situations on registration so that they can offer appropriate resources and notify teachers.

Statistics on LGBTQ Students

Homeless LGBTQ+ students typically experience even greater challenges than other students in inadequate living situations.

Not only are some LGBTQ+ youth homeless because their families were not willing to accept their identity, but they are often bullied at school as well, making a place that should be stable fraught with stress. Reports show that 70% of LGBTQ+ youth experience bullying at school, and many are the victims of sexual jokes and comments or threats.

Teachers must understand these unique challenges and make a special effort to provide support and resources for LGBTQ+ students.

Get Tips From Professional Educators Who Have Already Made a Difference

All teachers want to help students in transitional housing to get through this difficult period in their lives, but many don’t know how to offer the right kind of support. One of the best ways to get started is to learn from educators who have already made a difference in the lives of homeless youths.

The most important thing for teachers to remember is that children experiencing homelessness require compassion, understanding, and dynamic support depending on their situation. All children need to get an education, but inadequate nutrition, sleep, or lack of access to hygiene products can layer on the challenges for homeless students. Educators who are unsure of how best to help beyond compassion and stability should reach out to teachers who have successfully assisted students in the past.

Live in an Area of Frequent Storms or Natural Disasters? Speak With Administration On Letting Students Use School Resources

33.3% of homeless individuals in 2017 were in families with children and 7.4% were children or young adults living on their own. Homelessness is dangerous for children in teens in all areas of the country, but especially in areas that experience extreme weather, frequent storms, and natural disasters.

When bad weather strikes, these students may have nowhere to go or may lack basic resources for their health, safety, and education. It’s important for schools to have an assistance plan for emergency situations such as hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes, potentially providing school resources during natural disasters to families between homes.

Though they cannot provide everything a child needs, educators can help spearhead these discussions in their districts and help ensure that all students have access to the resources they need to stay safe and healthy during a time of transition.

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