Overcoming Homelessness and Poverty through Education

[Note: The U.S. Department of Education’s Youth Engagement Team was pleased to host students affected by homelessness and their peer leaders from SchoolHouse Connection for a listening session with Jason Botel, principal deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. He was recently appointed vice-chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. The session provided students an opportunity to discuss obstacles that homeless students encounter in pursuing their education, and the practices and policies that can help them succeed. The students present endured repeated moves between schools and unstable living situations; they also experienced hunger, deep poverty, and in many cases, parental abandonment and abuse. Despite these challenges, they are still pursuing their educations in college.

One of those students, Latte Harris, shares her experiences and highlights the challenges she and many others face while homeless.]

Have you wondered what being homeless is like? Being homeless is like driving a car with three wheels. You don’t have all the tools you need to succeed. While other cars zip past you, hope begins to dissipate with every passing mile. It is like living two different lives. At school, I was stressed about how to hide my homelessness and, when I wasn’t at school, I was stressed about how to satisfy at least my immediate needs.

Being homeless has taught me that nothing is handed to you. A person has to work hard for what he or she desires the most. In high school, my sisters and I had to wake up at the crack of dawn to leave our motel room in Oregon with all of our belongings, and take three buses and a mass transit train to make it to school in Washington State.

Every night we stayed in a different motel. The only thing I could control was my grades. The feeling of getting an A at the end of the term was all I needed to remind me that I would survive, in and out of school. I was confident only in my education and my resolve to succeed. I knew that the only way to break the cycle of poverty in my family’s life was to gain an education. The day I received my high school diploma from Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Washington, was surreal. And, I knew I wouldn’t stop there.

Today, I am a first-generation college student at Portland State University, and I hope to major in sociology. Through my studies, I’ve been empowered to initiate change in my family that will allow us to acquire economic and socio-emotional wealth.

Being homeless robbed my family and me of an understanding of how the world works. Receiving a college degree will ensure that I can obtain the cultural capital necessary to help support my family and others affected by homelessness. It is important for me to be able to ensure that others understand how to navigate social systems and achieve success, while still offering active support.

The Department of Education has a team of individuals dedicated to addressing the needs of students affected by homelessness. The Education for Homeless Children and Youths (EHCY) Program collaborates with a variety of federal partners to serve children, youths and families experiencing homelessness. Meeting with the Department of Education’s staff was important to me because it highlighted that homeless students have the ability to achieve more when they have the right supports and services.

I was pleased to hear about the various support programs and guidance that EHCY provides to local homeless education liaisons because my liaison was critical to me, and to students in similar situations. It was important to share my personal experience with Jason Botel, because his work will impact many students like me.

Sometimes I can’t believe I’ve made it this far, and that brings me an immense amount of relief and hope as I work to break the cycle of poverty in my family’s life through educational attainment.

 

Latte Harris graduated from Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Washington. She is majoring in sociology at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon.

Photographer: Joshua Hoover, ED Studio Team