As the school year comes to a close, lawmakers are considering an investment of $39 million to address homelessness and housing shortages in Minnesota, as proposed by the Homes for All alliance. Working every day in schools, my colleagues and I know how essential safe and stable housing is to our students and fully support this proposed investment.
Each year, 13,000 students in Minnesota experience homelessness and lack a stable place to call home. Last school year, nearly 4,000 were enrolled in Minneapolis Public Schools.
Research has shown the negative impact homeless can have on academic performance. But teachers, social workers, and principals are also concerned about the effect the lack of housing stability has on a student’s overall experience at school.
Schools, as required by federal law, transport students back to their school when they are homeless. However, this can mean long ride times that can take a toll on students before the school day even begins. Many students who need to be bused to be able to stay in their original school are forced to wake up hours earlier than usual to be transported across town. A school social worker in an inner-ring suburb sees a student at her school that arrives every day before she does. To help him finish his homework, she lent him a clipboard so that the time he spends waiting and on the bus can be spent productively.
Some students must move long distances to find a place to live and the frequent school turnover can lead to gaps in instruction. For example, when a student leaves one school where multiplication hasn’t been taught yet, then changes to a school where that skill is assumed, he or she can fall behind quickly.
Getting up to speed with different curricula isn’t the only adjustment students changing schools in the middle of the year must make. Adam Paltrineri, an educator in Minneapolis, spoke about how hard it is for students to find their place socially. Saying goodbye to friends and teachers is difficult. Students often don’t feel comfortable disclosing their living situation to others and it is usually impossible to have friends over when you stay in a shelter, church, or on the floor of a relative.
According to the latest Wilder Research Homeless Study, nearly half of Minnesota’s homeless population is children and youth aged 21 and under and we’ve seen a 22 percent increase in homeless two-parent families since 2009. Stable and safe housing makes it easier for children to succeed in school.
Housing and homelessness programs help provide stable housing and services for students and their families. We need to pair investments in education with investments in housing to create a lasting and substantial impact. Teachers and schools will continue to do everything in our power to help all students succeed, but an increased investment in housing would help address the core issue for homeless students.
Lee Carlson, a long-time educator in a small town in southeastern Minnesota that is no stranger to homelessness among students, asks, “If home is where the heart is, how do we expect homeless students to pour their heart into learning?”
Now is the time to invest in housing to achieve school success.
Ryan Strack is the District Liaison for Homeless and Highly Mobile Students in Minneapolis Public Schools.