Student Homelessness

Since the onset of the economic recession, rates of student homelessness have increased rapidly in urban, suburban, and rural school districts throughout the United States. Despite the widespread urgency of the issue, there is a lack of general coherence in the research about how diverse conditions of homelessness affect students and how schools and communities can best serve them. This literature review attempts to deepen scholars’ understandings of such matters by examining (a) homeless students’ school experience in comparison to that of other students, (b) federal policy’s shaping of homeless students’ rights and opportunities, and (c) homeless students’ key support mechanisms. The author suggests that these three focus areas provide foundational insights into the nature and extent of students’ opportunities to succeed in school. Although homeless students’ experiences are noted to be similar to those of residentially stable low-income students, they appeared to be distinguishable based on their high rates of isolation and school mobility. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was found to have profound formative influences on the wider field of practice, but its full implementation is limited by the disconnected nature of students’ diverse support mechanisms. Based on the findings, the author suggests that researchers and practitioners consider the people, places, and policies that affect students in more holistic manners—as networks of practice.

A student at LaGuardia Community College recounts his two-year struggle with homelessness, showing a reporter and a photographer where he found shelter. Take the tour

College students live on ramen noodles. College students couch-surf. These popular images can obscure more ominous realities: hunger and the little acknowledged problem that some do not have a place to live at all.

“‘Homeless college student’ seems like a contradiction in terms,” said Paul Toro, a psychology professor at Wayne State University who studies poverty and homelessness. “If you’re someone who has the wherewithal to get yourself into college, well, of course you should be immune to homelessness. But that just isn’t the case.”

It’s difficult to know exactly how many students are homeless, or are dangling dangerously close to it, in part because of the enormous stigma surrounding the issue. But new research shows how pervasive a problem it is — and one that some educators believe is growing.