Written By: Chandler K., SchoolHouse Connection Scholar
I can remember being a young teen, living with my mother and six siblings and being locked out of the house until the early hours of the morning on multiple occasions. Abuse was prevalent in my home and trying to navigate school with honors and AP Courses throughout this experience was next to impossible. Eventually, the abuse became so bad that I had no choice but to flee. I searched for alternative housing options, but the only option I could find was an old RV behind my Grandparents’ home. The RV smelled of mildew, had no power or running water, and though it was safer than my home, the nights spent on the small RV mattress still haunt me to this day. I felt incredibly isolated during this time, because I felt I had to do my best to hide the fact that I was homeless. I sometimes look back and wonder how people didn’t know. I would often have to wear the same clothes multiple days in a row and I struggled to meet my basic needs like having access to food and hygiene supplies.
During this time, school and the local library became safe places where I received critical support. Once the school learned that I was experiencing homelessness, they did the best that they could to support me, but resources were limited. Looking back, some of the things I needed most were to be identified as experiencing homelessness so that I could access resources, and wrap-around services that went beyond academic support. Without access to critical resources like shelter, food, mental and physical healthcare, transportation, communication options, and social-emotional support, I would not have been able to succeed in my classes and ultimately reach graduation.
When I learned about the additional $600 million dollars that the Department of Education would be designating as part of the American Rescue Plan Act to support students experiencing homelessness, on top of $200 million already out, I was filled with hope. The resources provided through ARP are the resources I needed when I was experiencing homelessness and I am confident that these resources will be life-changing for students like me.
Being identified as homeless by my McKinney-Vento Liaison and therefore becoming eligible for numerous resources was a pivotal point in my story. I found out I was legally a homeless youth by a family member who works in public service. They were only able to identify me as homeless since they knew so much more about me than I, a student, would be willing to share with any school worker. Since my district only has one liaison and 1500 students, I could see how outreach and navigation of available resources would be a challenge. I am thankful that ARP allows funds to be used to increase outreach and identification. Had my district had these resources, I think I likely would have been identified and connected to resources much sooner which would have mitigated some of the trauma I was experiencing.
As I mentioned previously, my needs also extended far beyond the school building. Did I need academic support and school related resources? Absolutely, I did, but I also needed stable housing, food, hygiene supplies, clothing, mental and physical health care, and other wrap-around services. As a homeless youth, being in the presence of my liaison (pre-covid) felt very safe. But when it was time to go “home”, I felt the world was against me. The wrap-around services I received helped me regain time for school and gave me time to think about my future rather than wondering where I’d get my next real meal. I think one of the most critical aspects of ARP is the emphasis on serving the student as a whole and meeting the needs that go beyond the school building. This wrap-around care will be pivotal in ensuring that students experiencing homelessness can fully participate in school and I know for me, it would have made all the difference.
Homelessness among children and youth was an issue long before COVID-19 but unfortunately, COVID-19 exacerbated the issues and barriers already faced by this vulnerable population. I am thankful that the Biden-Harris Administration has listened to the stories of young people and providers around the country and responded through the Build Back Better Agenda. Through the Build Back Better Agenda, students experiencing homelessness can not only be identified and receive wrap-around support, but they can also ensure that they will be able to return to school safely.
Through the support of my school and community as well as my own determination, I was ultimately able to not only graduate with a high school diploma but also an associates degree and I was able to secure stable housing. I will now be going on to get an undergraduate degree in mathematical physics and my opportunities are endless. Looking back on my experience of homelessness and looking at the resources provided through the American Rescue Plan Act and the Build Back Better Agenda, I am confident that the Department of Education and the Biden-Harris Administration as a whole are on the right track. I firmly believe that these resources would have made a difference in my life and that they will do the same for the 1.4 million other children and youth experiencing homelessness across America.
Thank you to the Administration, the Department of Education, providers around the country, and the brave students fighting for their education. Together, we can overcome and ensure that every student has full access to their education, which I believe is the key to overcoming homelessness.