During the 2022-23 school year, 18,455 students were identified as experiencing homelessness in school districts across Wisconsin. Homelessness isn’t always what you would think. It includes situations where students are doubled up with other families or friends; in shelters; unsheltered, or in hotels and motels.
Students and families experiencing homelessness face complex and systemic challenges, including everything from barriers within their educational experiences to basic needs found in safe and stable living environments.
We asked Racine Families in Transition Coordinator Kaylee Cutler about the challenges faced by the unhoused students she helps every day. These are her words.
I always knew I wanted to work with youth. Growing up, I experienced homelessness in more ways than one. Due to an unsafe home, my mother, siblings, and I stayed at a domestic violence shelter and were doubled up many times. This ultimately led me to being an unaccompanied homeless youth at the age of 16 when I left my home. I keep going because these families and youth deserve to have a safe and stable place within our school buildings. Having that safe place at school allowed me to not only survive but thrive. I want to make sure our students who are experiencing homelessness have that same opportunity I did.
We currently have 16,076 students currently enrolled in RUSD - 516 of those students are identified as experiencing homelessness.
I have seen a few changes in the reasons that families are losing housing, including an increase in landlords selling and forcing their tenants out. A majority of families are currently living paycheck to paycheck. They are not in the position to be able to move and put down an application fee, first month's rent, last month's rent, security deposit, etc. In our community, our families do take care of one another. Most of our families are doubled up but, but that is not always an option. Due to how quickly these families are being forced out of their homes, they are having to stay at hotels. While staying at a hotel keeps them out of a shelter and off the streets, it does put them further behind in saving money to obtain a more permanent place to reside. Unfortunately, there is an uptick in domestic violence as well.
Our students would like their teachers to know and understand that school is not always their number one priority because they are more focused on their home life (where they may be sleeping that night, what they are going to eat, etc.). Or that just because they are currently experiencing homelessness does not mean that they are less than.
Transiency is always a huge challenge these students face. Although we work wonderfully with our bus company and can get transportation set up within a day or two (many times the next day), students may still have to miss due to moving. When a student misses school, they may fall behind academically and they also miss that stability that allows them to build solid and trusting relationships. Along with the challenge of how to get to school when being transient, the stress and worry that comes along with the unknown is a challenge that these youth are forced to handle. I regularly connect families to resources such as FoodShare, W2, and other State aids. I have a wonderful relationship with our shelter in the area and help assist families to get into shelter. I wish that we had more access and the ability to help families get into stable and affordable housing.
A success story to me is a student's attendance, grades, and engagement improving because we were able to help connect the family to resources to help create a more stable educational environment. While we may not be able to change a student's home life, we are able to help support them within our school buildings and have their school be their safe and stable place.
In this, our first article this school year in our series looking at the impacts of homelessness on our students, the DPI recognizes November as Homeless Awareness Month. We call upon everyone in Wisconsin to commit to increased action and sustainable support for the current and future successes of our students and families experiencing homelessness. Read the DPI’s Proclamation here.
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