As the leaves change colors and the temperatures drop, it’s a sign fall is just around the corner, and with it most kids start back to school. It’s a time many children eagerly anticipate—catching up with old friends, making new ones and settling into a daily routine.
For some, it can be their worst nightmare. They are often referred to as—the invisible homeless—children without a place to call their own. Some live at the Nashville Rescue Mission, some live with friends or family, others in motel rooms and some even survive out of cars.
Why are people homeless?
The reasons for homelessness number as many as the individuals who are currently experiencing it. Homelessness can often be attributed to tragic life occurrences like the loss of loved ones, job loss, domestic violence, divorce and family disputes. Other impairments such as depression, untreated mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder and physical disabilities are also responsible for a large portion of the homeless. Whatever the reason, children are often its silent victims. They have no idea how to handle these circumstances. And even when families lose their homes, children are still expected to attend school.
How homelessness affect kids
While we all know that our childhoods were not always a walk in the park, homeless children also endure a lack of safety, comfort, privacy, reassuring routines, adequate health care, uninterrupted schooling, sustaining relationships and a sense of community. These factors combine to create a life-altering experience that inflicts profound and lasting scars.
In Tennessee, more than 16,500 children are estimated to be homeless. Of that, almost 10,000 are school-age and enrolled in public school, 2000 of which are in Nashville/Davidson County. Being homeless brings countless challenges to these children. How will I get the supplies I need for school? How can I find a quiet place for homework in this shelter? What if the kids at school find out I’m homeless and make fun of me? What will I do? The list goes on and on.
“School life can be an adjustment process for any student, but for children who are homeless, it often offers the only piece of stability in their lives.”
Families with children comprise 34% of the homeless population, and this number is growing. Within a single year, 97% of homeless children have moved, at least 25% have witnessed violence and 22% have been separated from their families. About half of all school-age children experiencing homelessness have problems with anxiety and depression and 20% of homeless preschoolers have emotional problems that require professional care. Their education is often disrupted and challenges in school are common.
The consequences of being a homeless student
Homeless children have the educational deck stacked against them. The link between education and income is one of the most transparent relationships in economics and one of the clearest routes out of poverty. Children experiencing homelessness are faced with huge barriers to achieving a high school diploma. Education is key to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.
Strikingly, 82% of children whose parents have less than a high school diploma live in poverty. Poverty traps poor students who need a good education to better their living standards. But in a classic Catch-22, poor children are more likely to do worse than non-poor children on measures of school achievement. They are twice as likely as their non-poor counterparts to have repeated a grade, to have been expelled or suspended from school or to have dropped out of high school.
How can you help?
By providing a few items off the Nashville Rescue Mission’s “Back to School” wish list, homeless children start the school year off with the same set of tools as their non-homeless friends.
We can’t, however, offer all of these items without your help. Most of the backpacks are both donated and filled with donated supplies given by you and other generous donors. But, as any parent knows, the wear and tear on children’s clothes and supplies is rather extensive.
“We can always use more backpacks, notebook paper, tissues, plastic baggies and uniforms—especially uniforms,” says Mary Crutcher, Director of the Family Life Center. “The mothers are greatly concerned about how they are going to provide outfits for their children.”
So, when you’re out checking off your own back to school list, consider these children and grab an extra folder, box of tissues or uniform to donate to the Mission. It may seem like a small thing, but it will help these kids feel more secure as they head back to school. You can visit www.nashvillerescuemission.org and download a “back to school” wish list with a more comprehensive list of items needed.