Getting to school is a challenge for lots of American kids, but homeless children face particularly steep barriers. United States Department of Education data illustrate the public health nature of many of the reasons homeless kids miss school. A vast majority of homeless families struggling to get their children to school reported meeting basic needs as a primary barrier, and many homeless children face resource issues like transportation, study space, and clothing needs, as well as specific medical and health care problems. In the face of multiple threats to health and wellbeing, almost 15% of homeless kids are not enrolled in school at all, while nearly 25% do not attend school regularly.
Not only do fundamental public health concerns – hunger, housing, medical care – lead to school absences for homeless children, that harmful association goes both ways. That is, as kids miss school they have poorer school achievement, which is unequivocally associated with negative long-term health outcomes, from increased risk of chronic diseases to higher infant mortality rates. Homeless children are especially vulnerable to missing school for reasons public health communities can address, and were those barriers to school attendance removed, homeless children could have better health and wellbeing throughout their lives.