Across the nation, the economic crisis has caused homelessness among families and youth to increase dramatically. Public schools nationwide saw a 41% increase in the number of identified homeless children and youth over the past two years, reaching nearly one million students. In Maryland, the increase reported by public schools was 26%. Yet in Baltimore City, schools barely registered an increase in student homelessness over the past few years.
It is true that most of these children and youth are invisible to the public eye. Most do not stay in readily identifiable locations like homeless shelters. Shelters are too few, too full, and too restrictive in their eligibility criteria for many families and youth. Instead, the great majority of homeless children and youth stay temporarily with others—on a couch, on a floor, in a basement—because they have no where else to go. These situations are precarious, unstable, and sometimes unsafe.
There is not a home, or even a shelter bed, for every child and youth who needs one—but there is a federally-mandated seat in the classroom for every child and youth experiencing homelessness. And that seat in the classroom doesn’t need to change with every new couch, new basement, or new floor: school stability is the law.
How do we find these invisible homeless children and youth? We look for them. We train school personnel to notice the signs, to ask the right questions the right way. We improve our enrollment procedures. We engage our community partners. We acknowledge that the housing crisis is much bigger than the emergency system set up to respond to it, and we embrace the critical role that schools play in addressing homelessness.
The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth is proud to join Baltimore City Schools, the Abell Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the Public Justice Center, in a new initiative—the Student School Stability Workgroup—to improve the identification of and services to homeless students in Baltimore City Schools. Together, we can make school a home for children and youth who don’t have one.