By Elaine Owen, Fannin Sentinel Editor
The number of public school students experiencing homelessness in the US increased from 1.3 million in the 2015-2016 school year to 1.5 million in the 2017-2018 school year, according to a study by the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE).
The 2017-18 number was the highest number that the NCHE has reported since it began tracking this data in 2004, according to George Hancock, the center director. “We’re seeing it throughout the country,” he said.
The majority of homeless students, whose ages range from pre-kindergarten at age 3 to grade 12 at age 18 or older, reported that they were forced to stay with friends or relatives due to loss of their primary housing or economic hardship.
More than 182,000 students reported living in shelters, transitional housing or were awaiting foster care – a 2% decrease from previous years.
However, the number of students living in unsheltered situations, such as on the streets, spiked by 137% to more than 102,000 in the past three years.
Housing instability can severely affect a child’s development and ability to learn. During this school year, the study found that only about 29% of students experiencing homelessness achieved academic proficiency in reading, roughly 24% achieved proficiency in mathematics and fewer than 26% achieved proficiency in science.
“What’s difficult for students that are facing homelessness is that everything is so up-in-the-air,” Hancock said. “When you think about what kind of things a student needs to succeed, those kind of stabilizing features are not available to the typical family facing homelessness and it has a direct impact on a student’s ability to perform in class.”
During the 2018-2019 school year, roughly 29 percent of students reached academic proficiency in reading, 24 percent were proficient in math and 26 percent achieved proficiency in science.
The report notes it does not reflect the totality of students who may experience homelessness and the number could be greater, as children who have dropped out, young children not enrolled in preschool or students who may have experienced homelessness in the summer are not shown in the data.
Fannin County Bucks Trend on Homelessness
The above Homeless Report is alarming. I dug up a report from 2014 on “Homelessness in Fannin County.” I then reached out to Supt. of Schools Dr. Michael Gwatney with my concerns.
Sarah Rigdon, Director of Achievement, Federal Programs, Assessment, and School Improvement responded to my request.
She said, “After reading the article on Homelessness, I can certainly understand your concern about homelessness and children. The article paints a very alarming picture about the rise in homelessness among children nationwide. In contrast to the information in the article, our local data has not shown any spikes in homelessness recently. Here is our data for homelessness among students in Fannin County Schools:
School Year 2016-17 showed 280 homeless students in the district or 8.83%
2017-18 showed 279 homeless students in the district or 8.90%
2018-19 showed 283 homeless students in the district or 8.82%
“Keep in mind that the federal definition of homeless includes those who are “doubled-up” and living with other relatives or friends. In Fannin, the vast majority of students who are identified as homeless are actually living in the home of a relative (such as a grandparent) with their family.
“If we look at a long-range picture, in 2014 there were 326 students in Fannin County who were identified as homeless compared to 185 so far this school year. Judging by this data, it appears that Fannin is faring much better than many other places when it comes to the frequency of homelessness among school-aged children.”