It's not always easy to identify high school students who are homeless, partly because those students might feel reluctant to talk about their living situation with staff or peers.
A school in Salt Lake City, Utah, is taking steps to help this often invisible population. As Fox 13 reported, East High School has fitted two rooms with laundry machines and showers, which students can use "before, during, or after school." Between 50 and 100 East High students did not have stable housing situations last month.
"It's to feel like they fit in, to feel like they are part of something, and they don't stand out," East High School principal Greg Maughan told the TV station. "And the more likely they are to attend, the more likely they are to succeed in class, to graduate and to move on to college and a career."
That argument is supported by research on the impact of homeless on students' education. A 2016 report from the Civil Enterprises and Hart Research Associates concluded, after surveying homeless youth, that homelessness took a "significant toll on their lives, their health, their relationships, and their education." Here are some takeaways from the report:
- 60 percent of formerly homeless students said "it was hard to stay in school while they were homeless."
- 68 percent said "it was hard to succeed and do well in school during their homelessness."
- 42 percent said "they had at one or more points dropped out of school."
The rate of homelessness in the public school population has doubled over the past decade. During the 2014-2015 school year, there were about 1.3 million homeless students in the country.
Part of the problem with addressing the high school homeless problem is that few are aware of its scope, and school staff are not trained to identify these students or how to help them, according to the report.
"Given the heavy toll that homelessness takes on students, it is critical that they be identified and connected to the right support systems as soon as possible," the report stated. "This is made difficult, however, by the fact that many students do not want to share the fact that they are homeless with friends, classmates, teachers, counselors, or liaisons due to embarrassment, fear of stigma or bullying, or worry over what will happen if they self-report."
East High School's experiment could be one example of how to foster a conversation about homelessness — while tangibly helping those students who don't have a home.