School Leaders Supporting Homeless Students

Dec 3, 2019 by


Homelessness is a major problem in American society. Much of it is hidden and the homeless are often invisible. Invisible because it is a stigmatism and it is shameful. How can a student just go up to a school principal or teacher and let them know that they have no place to go after school? That they have no food to eat? They are people who are living with another family, in shelters and motels. In 2016-2017 it was estimated that there were about 1.3 million students homeless in America. This figure has risen greatly over the past decade up by 70% and many believe that despite official statistics that they are still growing. The homeless are defined as those ‘who lack a fixed, regular, or adequate night time residence’. This problem has become very pronounced among K-12 students. Being homeless means a great many hardships for students and it means that they are not able to achieve the desired educational outcomes.

Challenges for Homeless Students

Students who do not have a stable home are more likely to have poor attendance records and often unable to complete homework. That is a given but understanding that as a school administrator is vital for student survival. Many students often have to travel significant distances to school, and this can be a challenge. They suffer from issues such as marginalization and a lack of confidence and are often not engaged with their learning because in the back of their head they are thinking of the nuances of survival that you and I take for granted. They often experience higher levels of mental health problems. Moreover, homeless students are largely obliged to attend underfunded public schools and unable to access charter schools, etc. Homeless student graduation rates are 64% and this is even lower than the average for those from a low-income family (74%). Many students experiencing homelessness are from low-income families or minorities and this is contributing to the ‘achievement gap’. Many are not able to access education and training after graduation and this means that they stay in poverty and without a home.

Plan of Action

Homelessness is a very complex problem. The Federal and State governments need to do more to increase the availability of affordable housing. School administrators need to play a role and in particular, they need to be an advocate for homeless children and ensure that they do not become invisible. If there is not one already, there needs to be a task force set up in school districts to tackle homelessness and provide support such as mental health supports. School districts need to collaborate with the local community to secure funding and other supports for children. Such partnerships can result in funding and other financial supports for homeless children.

School Supports

There are a number of ways that school administrators can support homeless students.

School leaders need to work with the homeless liaisons. These officers are appointed to support students living alone who are homeless under the terms of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987.

School leaders need to collaborate with the liaisons in terms of training. These officers can train teachers on how to identify homeless children and this is critical if they are to be properly supported. The tell-tale signs of homelessness include poor hygiene, nutrition, and tiredness.

Teachers need to connect homeless students with liaison officers who can provide more specialist supports.

Educators need to develop a relationship with the homeless student and make it clear that they are welcome and a member of the learning community.

It may be necessary to provide spaces for homeless students to work after school. A place where they can study and complete their homework.

It is important that school principals reach out to the parents of homeless students or the homeless students themselves in their buildings. It is critical that parents are involved in their education. This can help some students build resilience, to stay in school longer, and have higher graduation rates.

School leaders may need to adjust the criteria for graduation so as to take account of the challenges faced by their homeless population. This could raise graduation levels.

Those students without a permanent residence need to be made aware of any supports that they would receive at Higher Education Institutions. Every effort needs to be made to ensure that homeless students feel that they can continue their education after graduation.

School leaders need to be more flexible when it comes to the learning of those without a home. This may involve understanding busing difficulties and other practical issues. In particular, more resources need to be allocated to these students, and not just books and computers.


Homelessness, homeless students, student homelessness, supporting homeless children, resilience, graduation rates, retention rates

Comment Below:

School leaders are inundated with higher expectations every year. What partnerships can a school principal or superintendent create to help with homeless students in their school or district? What are some innovative ways that are working in your school or district to support homeless students? What classroom strategies are essential when it comes to supporting homeless students?


Davies, Robert (2018) The Kids Aren’t all Right. Denver Voice. Retrieved from:

Graham, Edward (2013) As Student Homelessness Worsens, Educators Work to Keep Them in School. NEA Today. Retrieved from

Keieleber, Mark |(2019) 1.3 Million Homeless Students: New Federal Data Show a 70 Percent Jump in K-12 Homelessness Over Past Decade, With Big Implications for Academic Performance. T74. Retrieved from

Swick, K. J. (2009). Strengthening homeless parents with young children through meaningful parent education and support. Early Childhood Education Journal. 36(4), 327-332. Retrieved from:

Walker, Tim (2017) School Districts Finding More and More Homeless Students. NEA Today. Retrieved from:

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