Most high schools in Dallas, TX, now have drop-in centers where homeless students can find resources such as food, grooming supplies, backpacks and counseling, NPR reports.
In the school district, there are an estimated 3,600 homeless students who could be served by the centers, but the issue is one that affects most districts across the nation.
The centers are especially helpful for students without parents in the picture, helping them connect with resources in the community that may offer more support and temporary housing.
A recent study from Chapin Hall, a research center at the University of Chicago, estimates that there are about 4.2 million young people experiencing unaccompanied homelessness each year. Teens are more likely to end up on their own with few resources, so drop-in centers of this type are most needed at that level. However, some elementary and middle school students have similar rooms set up to help families of younger students, as well.
Though attending to social needs is not the primary purpose of schools, they are the logical place to offer such help. Schools often have resources such as extra food and are convenient locations for local charities and service organizations to provide supplies and needed resources. Some abandoned school buildings are now being converted into spaces to serve the homeless. Older school buses can also be converted into feeding stations and drop in sites that offer supplies to students. While the operation of such resources may strain school staff, community partnerships or volunteer help can be enlisted to keep up with the staffing and organizational needs. Parent teacher organizations may be a great place to start in this regard.
Reaching the homeless student population can increase student attendance and perceptions of education in addition to meeting their physical needs. Teachers can also help homeless students succeed with the right tools at hand. This, in turn, is more likely to keep these students in school until they graduate, a metric that is included in the new ESSA guidelines. But aside from all the educational reasons for helping homeless students, most educators would agree that it is simply the right thing to do.