In March 2015 16-year old Devin Borkowski was found dead in an abandoned home in Elkart County, Indiana. This was a tragic but not isolated incident. Devin was one of 350 youth in the county’s school system who was homeless during the 2015-2016 school year. Neighboring St. Joseph County had more than 230 homeless students during that time.
The United States has experienced an alarming rise in the number of homeless K-12 students. There were 1,263,323 students identified as homeless in the U.S. in 2014-2015. That’s more than a 100% increase from 2006-2007 numbers. America’s Promise Alliance warns that the number may actually be an underestimate due to the difficulty in tracking and identifying students experiencing homelessness.
This is a broad statistic which means lots of different things, including students who lack adult supports and students whose families have lost their homes. Homelessness may be brief, occur sporadically, or be chronic. Students could be homeless because they are escaping a dangerous situation at home, rejected by their families, or their families are experiencing temporary instability. A disproportionate number of homeless students identify as LGBTQ.
One of the barriers to connecting homeless students to the proper resources is the “invisibility of student homelessness.” Many do not want to share with friends or school leaders that they are experiencing homelessness due to “embarrassment, fear of stigma, bullying, or worry over what will happen if they self-report.”
In America’s Promise Alliance’s report, Hidden in Plain Sight, one youth interview expressed, “I don’t want to tell nobody, I don’t. I learned that one time from telling the school that I was homeless and it went basically viral. And I didn’t like it because you know how school kids are, they want to get all idiotic and say little things.”
Feature image and graph from: Special Report, Hidden in Plain Sight: Homeless Students in America’s Public Schools, June 13, 2016