Making his daily commute near San Jose, CA

Finland Solved Homelessness: Here's How (Spoiler: It's More Than Housing First) - Dec 23, 2023
Homelessness and Mental Health: A Challenge to Our Society
Number Of Homeless Children In America Surges To All-Time High
Ending Youth Homelessness: Lessons From Veterans Homelessness
A Whopping 76% Of Teachers Say Kids Come To School Hungry. Here’s What’s Being Done
There are more homeless students in the U.S. than people living in Dallas
'Anti-homeless' laws have risen rapidly in U.S. cities. Finally, Washington responded.
If you're homeless and in college, what do you do when the dorms close?
Houseless Teen & Suicides
Collecting Items for Homeless Men
Hunger + Homelessness Awarenerss Week (11/12-20/22)

FAQ about Homeless Veterans
Homeless Veterans Facts
Incarcerated Veterans
Improving Care for Homeless

Gentleman With a Family
Living in Poverty

Teaching men emotional intelligence

Growing Up Poor In America (full documentary) | FRONTLINE
Poverty in America is by design w/Matthew Desmond | The Chris Hedges Report
Never Thought He'd Be Homeless in Hollywood
17 Years Military to 10 Years Homeless in Los Angeles
Poverty in the USA: Being Poor in the World's Richest Country | ENDEVR Documentary
ON THE STREETS -- a feature documentary on homelessness in L.A
Documentary on Mark Horvath of Invisible People Using YouTube and Social Media to End Homelessness
Poor Kids (full documentary) | FRONTLINE
Facing Eviction (full documentary) | FRONTLINE
Aging in the U.S. (full documentary) | FRONTLINE
Renters In America Are Running Out Of Options
Poverty, Politics and Profit (full documentary) | FRONTLINE
Why Americans Feel So Poor | CNBC Marathon
How Much Money Do Americans Need To Be Comfortable?
‘Real disconnect’ between cost of living and workers’ paychecks | Meet the Press Reports
A young man asks a homeless man to borrow his bucket, what happens next will burst you into tears.
Homeless man called a bum, this will change your perspective
Selfless Homeless Man Gets A HUGE Reward Social Experiment
How Would People Act When No One Is Watching? (Social Experiment)
Alabama Boy Feeds Homeless Man; Brings Entire Restaurant to Tears
Video that will change your life. I have no words left.
Rich VS Poor Million Dollar Social Experiment
Homeless Man Does Incredible Act Social Experiment
Homeless Woman Does Amazing Act!!
Go inside 24 hours of

Abusing The Homeless (Social Experiment)
People Walk Past Loved Ones Disguised As Homeless On The Street Social Experiment

How The Homeless are Treated in Canada VS. America (Social Experiment)

Streets of Philadelphia, Kensington Ave Documentary, July 9, 2022
Homeless Veteran Gets an Apartment: HOUSING FIRST WORKS
From a Tent to a Home: No Longer Homeless

Finland Solved Homelessness: Here's How (Spoiler: It's More Than Housing First) - Dec 23, 2023

Finland's remarkable success in reducing homelessness is often credited to the innovative Housing First approach. This model offers stable housing as the primary intervention, complemented by essential support services to address the root causes of homelessness and help individuals rebuild their lives. Amid the escalating homelessness crisis in the United States, evidence-backed solutions like Housing First often take a back seat to counterproductive measures like criminalizing poverty and conducting homeless sweeps. While skeptics argue that Finland's achievements cannot be replicated in America, Invisible People embarked on a transformative journey to Helsinki, Finland, to explore the potential of implementing the Housing First approach on a large scale in the United States. What's even more striking is that Housing First was born in America. Yet, Finland has embraced it and witnessed an incredible reduction in homelessness, plummeting from over 20,000 homeless people to less than 4,000 in just a decade.

Countless media outlets have highlighted Finland's achievements in homelessness reduction, with the Housing First model at the forefront. However, our investigation uncovered that the Finnish approach goes beyond Housing First. Finland's strategy involves prioritizing the development of affordable housing and cultivating a culture genuinely dedicated to improving homeless services to house people quickly and permanently. While Housing First has played a significant role in their success, it's just one piece of the puzzle.

Unlike the United States, where the emphasis often lies solely on housing placement, Finland recognizes that people need more than just a roof over their heads to thrive. In Finland, they prioritize placing the individual within the housing unit, ensuring that they have a sense of purpose rather than merely survival.

Invisible People is known for its dedication to telling the authentic stories of homelessness, offering viewers a raw and unfiltered glimpse into the lives of those experiencing it firsthand. In this special episode, we take our commitment to authenticity to the next level by providing the most genuine and comprehensive look into Housing First that has ever been captured on video. Our mission is to shed light on the realities of homelessness, challenge preconceptions, and explore viable solutions. Join us as we dive deep into Finland's remarkable approach, presenting an authentic narrative that showcases the transformative power of compassionate policies and affordable housing.

Number Of Homeless Children In America Surges To All-Time High: Report

The number of homeless children in the U.S. has surged in recent years to an all-time high, amounting to one child in every 30, according to a comprehensive state-by-state report that blames the nation's high poverty rate, the lack of affordable housing and the impacts of pervasive domestic violence.

Titled "America's Youngest Outcasts," the report being issued by the National Center on Family Homelessness calculates that nearly 2.5 million American children were homeless at some point in 2013. The number is based on the Department of Education's latest count of 1.3 million homeless children in public schools, supplemented by estimates of homeless pre-school children not counted by the DOE.

The problem is particularly severe in California, which has one-eighth of the U.S. population but accounts for more than one-fifth of the homeless children with a tally of nearly 527,000.

Carmela DeCandia, director of the national center and a co-author of the report, noted that the federal government has made progress in reducing homelessness among veterans and chronically homeless adults.

"The same level of attention and resources has not been targeted to help families and children," she said. "As a society, we're going to pay a high price, in human and economic terms."

Child homelessness increased by 8 percent nationally from 2012 to 2013, according to the report, which warned of potentially devastating effects on children's educational, emotional and social development, as well as on their parents' health, employment prospects and parenting abilities.

The report included a composite index ranking the states on the extent of child homelessness, efforts to combat it, and the overall level of child well-being. States with the best scores were Minnesota, Nebraska and Massachusetts. At the bottom were Alabama, Mississippi and California.

California's poor ranking did not surprise Shahera Hyatt, director of the California Homeless Youth Project.

The crux of the problem, she said, is the state's high cost of living, coupled with insufficient affordable housing.

"People think, 'Of course we are not letting children and families be homeless,' so there's a lot of disbelief," Hyatt said. "California has not invested in this issue."
Hyatt, 29, was homeless on and off throughout adolescence, starting when her parents were evicted when she was in 7th grade. At 15, she and her older brother took off and survived by sleeping in the tool sheds, backyards and basements of acquaintances.

"These terms like 'couch surfing' and 'doubled-up' sound a lot more polite than they are in practice," she said. "For teenagers, it might be exchanging sex for a place to stay or staying someplace that does not feel safe because they are so mired in their day-to-day survival needs."

Near San Francisco, Gina Cooper and her son, then 12, had to vacate their home in 2012 when her wages of under $10 an hour became insufficient to pay the rent. After a few months as nomads, they found shelter and support with Home & Hope, an interfaith program in Burlingame, California, and stayed there five months before Cooper, 44, saved enough to be able to afford housing on her own.

"It was a painful time for my son," Cooper said. "On the way to school, he would be crying, 'I hate this.'"

In mostly affluent Santa Barbara, the Transition House homeless shelter is kept busy with families unable to afford housing of their own. Executive director Kathleen Baushke said that even after her staff gives clients money for security deposits and rent, they go months without finding a place to live.

"Landlords aren't desperate," she said. "They won't put a family of four in a two-bedroom place because they can find a single professional who will take it."

She said neither federal nor state housing assistance nor incentives for developers to create low-income housing have kept pace with demand.

"We need more affordable housing or we need to pay people $25 an hour," she said. "The minimum wage isn't cutting it."

Among the current residents at Transition House are Anthony Flippen, Savannah Austin and their 2-year-old son, Anthony Jr.

Flippen, 28, said he lost his job and turned to Transition House as his unemployment insurance ran out. The couple has been on a list to qualify for subsidized housing since 2008, but they aren't counting on that option and hope to save enough to rent on their own now that Flippen is back at work as an electrician.

Austin, due to have a second child in December, is grateful for the shelter's support but said its rules had been challenging. With her son in tow, she was expected to vacate the premises each morning by 8 a.m. and not return before 5 p.m.

"I'd go to the park, or drive around," she said. "It was kind of hard."

The new report by the National Center on Family Homelessness — a part of the private, nonprofit American Institutes for Research — says remedies for child homelessness should include an expansion of affordable housing, education and employment opportunities for homeless parents, and specialized services for the many mothers rendered homeless due to domestic violence.

Efforts to obtain more resources to combat child homelessness are complicated by debate over how to quantify it.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development conducts an annual one-day count of homeless people that encompasses shelters, as well as parks, underpasses, vacant lots and other locales. Its latest count, for a single night in January 2013, tallied 610,042 homeless people, including 130,515 children.

Defenders of HUD's method say it's useful in identifying the homeless people most in need of urgent assistance. Critics contend that HUD's method grossly underestimates the extent of child homelessness and results in inadequate resources for local governments to combat it. They prefer the Education Department method that includes homeless families who are staying in cheap motels or doubling up temporarily in the homes of friends or relatives.

"Fixing the problem starts with adopting an honest definition," said Bruce Lesley, president of the nonprofit First Focus Campaign for Children. "Right now, these kids are sort of left out there by themselves."

Lesley's group and some allies have endorsed a bill introduced in Congress, with bipartisan sponsorship, that would expand HUD's definition to correlate more closely with that used by the Education Department. However, the bill doesn't propose any new spending for the hundreds of thousands of children who would be added to the HUD tally.

Shahera Hyatt, of the California Homeless Youth Project, says most of the homeless schoolchildren in her state aren't living in shelters.

"It's often one family living in extreme poverty going to live with another family that was already in extreme poverty," she said. "Kids have slept in closets and kitchens and bathrooms and other parts of the house that have not been meant for sleeping."

Ending Youth Homelessness: Lessons From Veterans Homelessness

The Family and Youth Services Bureau's National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth (NCFY) is a free information service that aims to educate the family and youth work field about the research and effective practices that can improve the long-term social and emotional well-being of families and youth. Recently, NCFY explored how current Federal efforts to support homeless veterans could help inform efforts to support unaccompanied homeless youth. Through a two-part interview with Matthew Doherty, executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), NCFY delves into some of USICH's work with homeless veterans as part of Opening Doors, a national strategy to end homelessness. The interview also shares some strategies and lessons learned from USICH's efforts around veterans' homelessness and how they could be applied to its national effort to end youth homelessness in 2020. This may be of interest to child welfare professionals due to the connection between youth homelessness and involvement with foster care and/or child welfare.

Lessons learned include the following:

  • Embrace data: Focusing on existing data helps communities project the number of people expected to experience homelessness, and to gauge the resources needed to respond to their needs. Understanding current data can also highlight the need for improvement.
  • Define success: USICH worked to develop criteria and benchmarks tied to the goal, such as communities identifying all veterans experiencing homelessness and providing shelter immediately to any unsheltered homeless veterans who wanted it.
  • Tap into a range of resources: While veterans may have access to a range of resources and services through the Department of Veterans' Affairs, USICH will promote homelessness education among a variety of systems of care funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (e.g., child welfare system), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs, schools, and others in order to meet the comprehensive needs of youth and families.

To read the interview and learn more, visit

Related Item

The March 2015 issue of Children's Bureau Express featured a spotlight section on housing . Articles in the spotlight section focused on the relationship between housing insecurity and child welfare involvement.

Anti-homeless' laws have risen rapidly in U.S. cities. Finally, Washington responded.

This is definitely a game changer.

Can you imagine living in fear of falling asleep? For thousands of homeless people across the country living in areas with "anti-homeless" laws, getting shut-eye could also mean getting handcuffed.

But fortunately, the federal government just sent a strong, game-changing message to American cities on how they should be treating homeless folks when it comes to getting a night's rest. And, according to one expert on the matter, the message is to homeless advocates what the Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality was to those fighting for gay rights.

Last week, the Department of Justice basically said being homeless should not be treated as a crime.

You might think that'd be a no-brainer, but there's actually been a growing number of American cities making it increasingly difficult to be homeless without breaking the law.

A study from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty analyzed 187 U.S. cities between 2011 and 2014 and found criminalizing homelessness is pretty popular nowadays. Bans on sitting or lying down in certain public areas, for instance, have spiked 43%. Laws that prohibit people from sleeping in vehicles have increased by a whopping 119%.

The problem is, laws like these don't curb homelessness. They just make it more challenging for homeless people to better their circumstances.

When a person gets arrested for, say, sleeping on a public bench, that arrest makes securing a job or a place to live down the line that much harder because employers and landlords are hesitant to trust someone with a history of run-ins with the law.

“Most homeless people aren't criminals," Eric Tars, a senior attorney for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, explained to Al Jazeera. “It's only the laws that criminalize their acts of survival that make them into that."

"So? Who cares? If someone breaks the law, it doesn't affect me!" someone (without a heart) might say.

Well, that might be a fair argument — albeit a morally bankrupt one — if it were true. But it's not. Research shows that taxpayers actually foot a larger bill when people are living without any form of shelter than if communities simply built and provided homes for those in need.

That's why it's a huge deal that the DOJ just declared Boise's ban on sleeping in public spaces as cruel and unusual punishment.

On Aug. 13, 2015, the DOJ issued a statement of interest regarding Janet F. Bell v. City of Boise. And its ramifications may be felt far outside the Gem State.

In its statement, the DOJ argues an ordinance in Boise that bans sleeping or camping in public places is unconstitutional because it violates the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

The DOJ claims a city can't fail to provide adequate shelter space for those in need while also outlawing sleeping in public:

"Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity — i.e., it must occur at some time in some place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless."

And that, the department argued, is unacceptable.

While the statement itself doesn't change policy, still "it's huge," Tars told The Washington Post. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty filed the lawsuit alongside Idaho Legal Aid Services on behalf of homeless individuals convicted of violating the local ordinance.

Coming from the federal level, the statement carries significant symbolic meaning and could influence how cities regulate homelessness moving forward.

It won't change the realities of being homeless in America overnight. But it's a meaningful step for anyone who believes homeless people should be treated like actual human beings rather than criminals.

Collecting Items for Homeless Men

There's a NCFM men's group in the Dallas/Ft Worth area that initiated a holiday campaign, sponsored by the Presbyterian Night Shelter in Fort Worth. The shelter hands out bags with a want list from homeless men who visit the shelter. The men's group goes around collecting these items: socks, stocking caps, gloves, deodorant, etc. Little things to us, but the kinds of items that could make a HUGE difference to a homeless man, especially in the winter! Other men can participate by making a cash donation. Then, the men's group goes out and buys the items and fills the bags. Wouldn't this be a great idea to start in your community with a local shelter, food bank, or church program? Men helping men who aren't asking for a hand but could sure use one.

Information source: Transitions, 1-2/02

If you're homeless and in college, what do you do when the dorms close? She faced it.

How one young woman not only escaped homelessness and finished college but is helping others.

This is an original piece by Jessica Sutherland, first featured on Bright and reprinted here with permission. To read more pieces like this, go to Bright and hit the follow button.

The Secret Lives of Homeless Students

After years of homelessness, I graduated college and a competitive master's program. What about the other million-plus homeless students in the U.S.?

Did you know that there are an estimated 1.2 million homeless students in American K-12 schools? For many years, I was one of them. My mother and I lived in the same motel room from kindergarten through third grade; after a few years in a “real" home that ended when I was 11, we spent the next six straight years in a cycle of chronic homelessness in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio.

To many people, homelessness evokes images of bums in tent cities, or families sleeping in a station wagon. While we spent our share of time sleeping in a shelter or a car, my childhood homelessness was mostly spent doing what my mother — still, to this day — prefers to call “bouncing around": living in motel rooms, or sleeping in whatever extra space people could find for us in their homes, for as long as we could stretch our welcome. Occasionally, we'd have an apartment for a few months, but we'd never have any furniture, and we'd always get evicted.

Refusing to call our lifestyle “chronic homelessness" didn't mean we didn't keep it a secret, or feel ashamed of it. I spent most of my teen years attending school illegally in my father's sleepy hometown; I was intensely aware that I needed to seem as normal as possible to avoid detection. I didn't completely know the consequences, but I was certain that if people found out, I would get removed to foster care and end up in a new school.

Left: 7th grade yearbook picture. We were living with my godmother when this was taken, but by Christmas, we were in a shelter. Right: 8th grade yearbook picture. We were definitely homeless and I cut my own bangs. All images via Jessica Sutherland and used with permission.

Foster care sounded better than my makeshift life with my mother, but I refused to risk losing my school. My school was my safest place, full of friends I'd known forever — even though I had to keep secrets from them. After spending just one week in a Cleveland public school while staying at a downtown shelter in seventh grade, I was very aware of the quality of education I would lose if we ever got caught. My suburban school was the ticket to the future I knew I was supposed to have: a college education.

I was given several advantages at birth — an able body, an active imagination, a pretty face. From a young age, I developed a sense of entitlement to go with them. When a stranger drew my portrait on a bus when I was in preschool, my mother told me it was because I was the most extraordinary little girl in the world. My early elementary years were spent in a magnet school that laid a great academic foundation and cultivated big dreams. Even when my grades dropped, as homelessness became my normal existence, it never occurred to me that I might not go to college.

I was finally removed to foster care senior year, but thanks to some powerful and clever people, I didn't miss a day at my beloved high school. However, I wasn't able to take my college entrance exams until after graduating — at the top third of my class (literally, I was 101 out of 303). I took the ACT the Saturday after receiving my diploma, with none of the prep most of my friends had, and still managed to swing a 30. I was ecstatic: with that score and my decent GPA, I had a great chance of getting into college next year. I was certain that a life full of opportunity and success would follow.

I only got senior pictures because the photo company chose me to use in advertising, so they were free.

My foster parents made no mention of forcing me out of their home once I turned 18, but as my birthday loomed, I realized I had no plans for my life between high school and college. I began to work more hours at the 24-hour diner by the freeway, saving money and sleeping little. I knew I needed to figure out what happened next. I was about to be a legal adult, but I still felt very much like a foster kid.

A late-night TV commercial caught my notice after a long shift at the diner: the nearest state school, Cleveland State University, was still accepting applications. I dragged a dear friend on a campus tour the following week. It was weird to be choosing a college in July. My friend was going to a fancy private school a few hours away, but she validated my excitement when we toured the largely commuter school's lone dormitory, a converted Holiday Inn.

“I can see you living here," she said. And so I applied.

At my interview, the admissions officer asked me why, with stats like mine, I would ever apply there. At the time, the school was not known for high standards of admission.

I didn't tell her I was a foster kid with nowhere else to go; I didn't tell her it was my only chance to avoid a gap year; I didn't tell her the structure of the dorm seemed like a better idea than living on my own at 18. I simply expressed my desire to learn.

My acceptance letter arrived within the week. My beautiful parents allowed me to stay with them, rent-free, for the two months between my birthday and the dorm's move-in day. I checked the right boxes on my FAFSA and got grants and academic scholarships I needed to cover most of my expenses. I walked onto two sports teams, in order to cover the rest without loans.

I was going to college, without a gap year interrupting my education. But it never occurred to me that I might not graduate.

"However, a familiar panic set in: where would I live until then? I didn't want to take summer classes just so I could keep my dorm room."

I breezed through my freshman and sophomore years. Those are the days I think of fondly as my most typical college experience.

As a cheerleader for a Division I basketball team, and a mid-distance runner, I was more sheltered and supported than I realized. A small staff oversaw my medical health, while another tracked my academic performance and guided me towards graduation. Thanks to mandatory team study halls and frequent physical therapy in the training room, most of my social circle was comprised of other athletes.

Getting tossed in the air as a CSU Vikings cheerleader

I traveled for my teams, and I traveled with my friends. I spent spring break in Florida and threw up in the sink of a beachfront McDonald's (to this day, I can't hold my alcohol). I was assigned a crazy roommate who used to stand over me in my sleep, but it wasn't until she threatened to throw me out of a window, in front of our RA, that I learned that I could do something about it. I was upgraded to a large single, and my baseball-playing boyfriend began to spend the night most of the time. I worked at a ridiculously expensive clothing store in a nearby mall.

I was a normal college kid.

Freshman year.

By the end of sophomore year, I was eager to keep up with my friends who felt they were too old for the dorm. I agreed to move into a house with a fellow athlete that coming fall.

However, a familiar panic set in: where would I live until then? I didn't want to take summer classes just so I could keep my dorm room. Even if I did, I would still have to move out of the dorm for two weeks between semesters. I'd spent those closures at my foster parents' house in the past, but the room where I slept had since been converted to an office.

“I have an idea," my baseball-playing boyfriend said to me one night. “You should move into my room for the summer. My mom won't care." He was headed out of state, to play in some competitive league for the entire summer.

“No way. I could never ask her to do that. She'd never say yes."

“I already asked her. She already did."

"Nobody was keeping me in line; nobody was telling me I was allowed to make mistakes."

Junior year was a disaster. My friend and I found an apartment, but she secretly decided to transfer schools mid-year, so she never signed the lease. When she moved out, I was responsible for more rent than I could afford. I soon began working at a downtown brewery more, and going to school less. There was nobody to ask for help or guidance, and my attempts to live with other roommates failed miserably.

Ultimately, I broke the lease and moved into a much cheaper and crummier apartment in a much worse neighborhood. My baseball-playing boyfriend and I fought constantly, and finally broke up. I dabbled in a different major, and my grades plummeted. I'd quit athletics that year, and my life suddenly lacked the excitement and structure it once had. Nobody was keeping me in line; nobody was telling me I was allowed to make mistakes.

For the first time in my life, I got an F on my report card. I decided I needed to take a semester off.

When I told my family about leaving school, nobody challenged me. Nobody told me it was a bad idea to drop out, that nearly half of college dropouts will never return to finish their degree. At 20, completely on my own, I needed an advocate, a mentor, a bossy guide to force me to take the harder road.

But as much as I needed a kick in the butt, nobody told me to keep going. So I didn't.

I dropped out for what became five years, before finally hitting a ceiling at my sales job that could only be shattered with either three more years of experience or a college degree. My boss had always insisted that I was too good for sales, and he strongly encouraged me to finish my bachelor's so I could have more choices.

So, at 25 years of age, I decided to finish what I had started, and returned to Cleveland State as a junior. I didn't have the support of the athletic department, but I had enough life experience to navigate the madness of choosing the right classes and filling out endless paperwork. I knew how to pay bills and keep a roof over my head.

In the meantime, Cleveland State had made vast improvements, and so tuition had tripled. I had no choice but to take out loans to offset what grants didn't cover. I took work as a cocktail waitress to pay my bills.

My first Film Festival, with a film I made in undergrad.

In 18 months, I had my degree — and decided to continue my education even further. After internships and student projects at local news stations and with the Cleveland Indians, I knew I wanted to work in film and television. I had always fantasized about attending film school, but it wasn't until two of my CSU professors pushed me to apply that I thought I might actually get accepted. They were right about me: I got in everywhere I applied, and chose the University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinematic Arts for my Master of Fine Arts.

While packing to move to Los Angeles, I found a box with abandoned applications and glossy USC brochures from years past. USC had been my dream school for nearly a decade, especially while I was dropped out of college. I smiled to myself as I realized how far I'd come. That abandoned dream was about to become reality.

By 2012, I had a master's degree from USC and a good job at Yahoo!, which I thought was everything I wanted. I always knew I would tell my story one day; now that I had a happy ending, I had the power to help other homeless kids like I once was.

Graduating USC.

Eventually, I went to observe “Mondays at the Mission," a wonderful life skills class for teenagers at the Union Rescue Mission on Los Angeles' Skid Row. When a scheduled speaker got stuck in traffic, I was asked to share my story as a backup. I remember feeling unbelievably nervous. Though it was my story, there was a lot to say, and I had nothing prepared. Before I could say no, founder Christopher Kai assured me that my story was worth telling. I pushed through, speaking for 45 minutes.

I wanted those children to know they had nothing to be ashamed of, that homelessness is not permanent, and that scars heal. Most importantly, I wanted them to learn to ask for help. Once I'd learned to ask for help, to accept it, and to trust others, my life got so much better. I told them that nobody was waiting for them to fail. They had to be brave and open up to trusted adults.

My speech captivated the kids. One student asked me why I didn't cry as I told my sad story. I said that even when things hurt us, wounds heal. Scars remind us of the pain we've survived, but they themselves do not hurt anymore.

After class, a soft-spoken boy named James lingered. I only came up to his shoulders, but his shyness made him seem half my size. “Do you think you could help me get into college?" he asked.

I took a deep breath and looked him in the eye. I'd barely gotten into college myself, but…


A year later, my young friend was accepted into 9 out of the 13 schools he'd applied to. In the end, he chose Howard University. He also chose student loans, which are, with rare exception, a necessary evil when attempting to better oneself through higher education.

When his Parent PLUS loans were declined, due — somewhat ironically — to his family's poverty, I created a crowd-funder for him on Tumblr, using the hashtag #HomelessToHoward. It went viral overnight. Within two weeks, we'd raised so much money that I had to apply to start a nonprofit in order to protect the funding as scholarship, rather than income.

I had a master's degree in my dream field, from my dream school; I was on track to a decent career as a producer. While I'd always hoped to inspire young people with my story one day, I hadn't planned to give up my producing career just as it began. I was ill-equipped to run a nonprofit to help homeless kids. But by this point, I'd realized that my life doesn't always go according to plan.

"Yet somehow, when all was nearly lost, someone always saved my day, cheered me on, and pushed me forward. What if Homeless to Higher Ed could be that someone for the 56,000 homeless kids in our colleges today?"

Most nonprofits start with an idea. Planning comes next, then fundraising, and then hopefully publicity. My organization, Homeless to Higher Ed, was built in reverse: We raised money and went public before I knew what our precise mission would be.

I watched my young mentee closely as he transitioned to a college student and mini-celebrity. I quickly realized that money didn't provide everything he needed to thrive; there was so much more to it than that. So I began researching homeless students in American colleges. And I was shocked to find that I could see myself in the statistics.

There were over 56,000 homeless and aged-out foster youth enrolled in American colleges in 2014. I learned that more than 90% of them won't graduate within six years. It took me nine years to get my bachelor's.

Even in a dismal economy, unemployment rates decrease as education level rises: to wit, education is the most reliable escape from poverty. And the most consistent indicator of success in college is whether or not the student's parents attended college. I had no college-educated relatives guiding me.

I also learned that homeless college students tend to be secretive. Fiercely independent. Eager to fit in. Afraid they have no right to be in college. Ashamed of their poverty. Paranoid about what poverty says about them to others. These traits combine to make them hard to identify — and it's even more challenging to get homeless students to accept help, much less ask for it. Daresay that most of them think they don't need it.

I'd never really thought about the odds that I'd beaten to get where I was. To me, it was the only normal course for my life, and failure wasn't an option. Except, of course, for all those times when it was.

Yet somehow, when all was nearly lost, someone always saved my day, cheered me on, and pushed me forward. What if Homeless to Higher Ed could be that someone for the 56,000 homeless kids in our colleges today?

“Homeless college students? That's a thing?"

Six months after incorporating the nonprofit, I had our mission: to normalize the college experience for homeless and aged-out foster youth. This also means that we need to de-stigmatize homelessness, so students in need will self-identify and get the help they need.

I often joke that my greatest shame is now my claim to fame. It's now impossible to Google me and not know that I spent a long time homeless. It's not something I've hidden about myself; I've been open about my childhood for my entire adult life. However, homeless students in college are often quite ashamed of their background, and struggle mightily to hide it. In fact, that 56,000 number is likely just a fraction of the actual homeless and aged-out foster youth in American colleges today, since it's based solely on students' willingness to self-report.

9 times out of 10, whenever I tell someone that I am building an organization that helps normalize the college experience for homeless students, the reaction is, “Homeless college students? That's a thing?"

Yeah. It's a thing. But it doesn't have to be.

There are more homeless students in the U.S. than people living in Dallas

More than 1.5 million U.S. public school students experienced homelessness during the 2017-2023 school year, according to a National Center for Homeless Education report released in January. The number is the highest recorded in over ten years and represents a population larger than the estimated total population of Dallas.

The number of students experiencing homelessness spiked by 15% between 2015 and 2018, the three most recent school years covered in the report. In the 2015-2023 school year, 1,307,656 students were reported as homeless, compared to the 1,508,265 students in 2017-2023 year, according to the report.

"The record number of children and youth experiencing homelessness nationwide is alarming," said Barbara Duffield, the Executive Director of SchoolHouse Connection, a non-profit that works to combat homelessness, in a statement. "But for many of these children and youth, public schools are their best — and often only — source of support. Schools exist in all communities, regardless of whether or not there are enough shelter beds; they are required to identify, enroll, and serve homeless children and youth; they use a definition of homelessness that captures the reality of homelessness for youth and families; and they provide the tools children and youth need to succeed."

The homeless student population increased by 10% or more in 16 states during the three school years covered in the report. Only five states experienced an "equally large" decrease over the same time period.

The homeless student population doubled in Texas over the three year period, increasing to 231,305 for the 2017-2023 school year. Coinciding with the increase was Hurricane Harvey, which pummeled the state in August of 2017, bringing 60 inches of rain in five days and damaging or destroying 300,000 buildings and homes.

Over the course of the three school years listed in the report, the number of students living in "unsheltered situations," which includes cars and abandoned buildings, increased by 137%. Students living in hotels or motels increased by 24% and students listed as living in "doubled-up" situations increased by 13%. The number of students in shelters decreased by 2%, however.

These numbers do not include the total number of homeless children and youth in America, as the report only includes public school students. It also doesn't take into account students who only experience homelessness during the summer or who drop out of school, according to the report.

The increase in homelessness isn't just a problem for students, however. The federal government reported a 2.7% increase in the nation's homeless population, driven by a spike in California, according to an annual count that took place in January 2019.

The lack of affordable housing in California, as well as cities across the country, is often cited as a key reason for the crisis. For example, Los Angeles residents need to earn nearly $50 an hour just to afford the median monthly rent of $2,471, according to the California Housing Partnership Coalition.



In 2000, there were 208.1 million civilians 18 years old and older. Almost 26.4 million of these people, or 12.7 percent, were veterans.

In 1980, 28.5 million veterans lived in the United States, but the number declined to 27.5 million in 1990 (14.5 percent of the adult civilian population) and to 26.4 million in 2000. Many veterans from the Korean War, World War II, and World War I aged and died during the last 20 years of the 20th Century.

Where Veterans Live

Between 1990 and 2000, veterans declined as a percentage of the civilian population in all regions. Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Alaska had the highest percentage of veterans, 17.1 percent. New York (9.5 percent) and the District of Columbia (9.8 percent) had the lowest percentages of veterans in their populations. Rural and nonmetropolitan counties had the highest concentration of veterans. Hampton, Virginia, near the country's largest naval station, had the greatest concentration of veterans in 2000, 27.1 percent. Six of the 10 places with the highest concentration of veterans were in Virginia.

In 2000, the largest veteran populations lived in the South (9.9 million) and the Midwest (6.1 million). The West had veteran populations of 5.7 million and the Northeast had 4.6 million. The South also had the highest proportion of veterans of the adult population, at 13.4 percent.

More Women Veterans

The number of female veterans has been increasing. Although the 1.6 million women veterans made up only 6 percent of the total veteran population in 2000, the percentages of women veterans from recent time periods is higher. Nearly 10 percent of veterans who served from May 1975 to August 1980 and 13 percent of those who served from September 1980 to July 1990 were women. In the most recent period of service, August 1990 or later, more than 15 percent were women.

Poverty Low Among Veterans

Poverty rates were low among veterans for every period of service. Overall, 5.6 percent of veterans lived in poverty in 1999, compared with 10.9 percent of the U.S. adult population in general. The youngest veterans, those who served in August 1990 or later, were among the most likely to be poor, with a poverty rate of 6.2 percent.

Who are homeless veterans?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly five percent being female. The majority of them are single; come from urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About one-third of the adult homeless population are veterans.

America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.

Roughly 56 percent of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 12.8 percent and 15.4 percent of the U.S. population respectively.

About 1.5 million other veterans, meanwhile, are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.

How many homeless veterans are there?

Although flawless counts are impossible to come by – the transient nature of homeless populations presents a major difficulty – VA estimates that 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness. Only eight percent of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly one-fifth of the homeless population are veterans.

Why are veterans homeless?

In addition to the complex set of factors influencing all homelessness – extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to health care – a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.

A top priority for homeless veterans is secure, safe, clean housing that offers a supportive environment free of drugs and alcohol.

Although “most homeless people are single, unaffiliated men… most housing money in existing federal homelessness programs, in contrast, is devoted to helping homeless families or homeless women with dependant children,” as is stated in the study “Is Homelessness a Housing Problem?” (Understanding Homelessness: New Policy and Research Perspectives, Fannie Mae Foundation, 1997).

Doesn’t VA take care of homeless veterans?

To a certain extent, yes. VA’s specialized homeless programs served more than 92,000 veterans in 2009, which is highly commendable. This still leaves well over 100,000 more veterans, however, who experience homelessness annually and must seek assistance from local government agencies and community- and faith-based service organizations. In its November 2007 "Vital Mission" report, the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated that up to about half a million veterans have characteristics that put them in danger of homelessness. These veterans may require supportive services outside the scope of most VA homeless programs.

Since 1987, VA’s programs for homeless veterans have emphasized collaboration with such community service providers to help expand services to more veterans in crisis. These partnerships are credited with reducing the number of homeless veterans by more than half over the past six years. More information about VA homeless programs and initiatives can be found here.

What services do veterans need?

Veterans need a coordinated effort that provides secure housing, nutritional meals, basic physical health care, substance abuse care and aftercare, mental health counseling, personal development and empowerment. Additionally, veterans need job assessment, training and placement assistance.

NCHV strongly believes that all programs to assist homeless veterans must focus on helping them obtain and sustain employment.

What seems to work best?

The most effective programs for homeless and at-risk veterans are community-based, nonprofit, “veterans helping veterans” groups. Programs that seem to work best feature transitional housing with the camaraderie of living in structured, substance-free environments with fellow veterans who are succeeding at bettering themselves.

Government money, while important, is currently limited, and available services are often at capacity. It is critical, therefore, that community groups reach out to help provide the support, resources and opportunities most Americans take for granted: housing, employment and health care. Veterans who participate in collaborative programs are afforded more services and have higher chances of becoming tax-paying, productive citizens again.

What can I do?

  • Determine the need in your community. Visit with homeless veteran providers. Contact your mayor’s office for a list of providers, or search the NCHV database.
  • Involve others. If you are not already part of an organization, align yourself with a few other people who are interested in attacking this issue.
  • Participate in local homeless coalitions. Chances are, there is one in your community. If not, this could be the time to bring people together around this critical need.
  • Make a donation to your local homeless veteran provider.
  • Contact your elected officials. Discuss what is being done in your community for homeless veterans.


Definitions, Demographics and Estimated Numbers

What is the definition of homeless?

The United States Code contains the official federal definition of homelessness, which is commonly used because it controls federal funding streams. In Title 42, Chapter 119, Subchapter 1, "homeless" is defined as:

§11302. General definition of homeless individual

(a) In general

For purposes of this chapter, the term "homeless" or "homeless individual or homeless person" includes––

1. an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and

2. an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is:

A. a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);

B. an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or

C. a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings."

Who is a veteran?

In general, most organizations use the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) eligibility criteria to determine which veterans can access services. Eligibility for VA benefits is based upon discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions. Benefits vary according to factors connected with the type and length of military service. To see details of eligibility criteria for VA compensation and benefits, view the current benefits manual here.

Demographics of homeless veterans

"The Forgotten Americans-Homelessness: Programs and the People They Serve" – released Dec. 8, 1999, by the U.S. Interagency Council on the Homeless (USICH) – is the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (NSHAPC), which was completed in 1996 and updated three years later. You can download the NSHAPC reports at

Veteran-specific highlights from the USICH report include:

  • 23% of the homeless population are veterans
  • 33% of the male homeless population are veterans
  • 47% served Vietnam-era
  • 17% served post-Vietnam
  • 15% served pre-Vietnam
  • 67% served three or more years
  • 33% were stationed in war zone
  • 25% have used VA homeless services
  • 85% completed high school/GED, compared to 56% of non-veterans
  • 89% received an honorable discharge
  • 79% reside in central cities
  • 16% reside in suburban areas
  • 5% reside in rural areas
  • 76% experience alcohol, drug or mental health problems
  • 46% are white males, compared to 34% of non-veterans
  • 46% are age 45 or older, compared to 20% non-veterans

Service needs cited include:

  • 45% need help finding a job
  • 37% need help finding housing

How many homeless veterans are there?

Accurate numbers community-by-community are not available. Some communities do annual counts; others do an estimate based on a variety of factors. Contact the closest VA medical center's homeless coordinator, the office of your mayor, or another presiding official to get local information.

A regional breakdown of numbers of homeless veterans, using data from VA's 2009 CHALENG (Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups) report – which contains the most widely cited estimate of the number of homeless veterans – can be found here .

Incarcerated Veterans

In May 2007, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a special report on incarcerated veterans. The following are highlights of the report, “Veterans in State and Federal Prison, 2004,” which assessed data based on personal interviews conducted in 2004:

Numbers and profiles

  • There were an estimated 140,000 veterans held in state and federal prisons. State prisons held 127,500 of these veterans, and federal prisons held 12,500.
  • Male veterans were half as likely as other men to be held in prison (630 prisoners per 100,000 veterans, compared to 1,390 prisoners per 100,000 non-veteran U.S. residents). This gap had been increasing since the 1980s.
  • Veterans in both state and federal prison were almost exclusively male (99 percent).
  • The median age (45) of veterans in state prison was 12 years older than that of non-veterans (33). Non-veteran inmates (55 percent) were nearly four times more likely than veterans (14 percent) to be under the age of 35.
  • Veterans were much better educated than other prisoners. Nearly all veterans in state prison (91 percent) reported at least a high school diploma or GED, while an estimated 40 percent of non-veterans lacked either.

Military backgrounds

  • The U.S. Army accounted for 46 percent of veterans living in the United States but 56 percent of veterans in state prison.
  • In 2004, the percentage of state prisoners who reported prior military service in the U.S. Armed Forces (10 percent) was half of the level reported in 1986 (20 percent).
  • Most state prison veterans (54 percent) reported service during a wartime era, while 20 percent saw combat duty. In federal prison two-thirds of veterans had served during wartime, and a quarter had seen combat.
  • Six in 10 incarcerated veterans received an honorable discharge.

Mental health

  • Veteran status was unrelated to inmate reports of mental health problems.
  • Combat service was not related to prevalence of recent mental health problems. Just over half of both combat and non-combat veterans reported any history of mental health problems.
  • Veterans were less likely than non-veteran prisoners to have used drugs. Forty-two percent of veterans used drugs in the month before their offense compared to 58 percent of non-veterans.
  • No relationship between veteran status and alcohol dependence or abuse was found.

Convictions and sentencing

  • Veterans had shorter criminal histories than non-veterans in state prison.
  • Veterans reported longer average sentences than non-veterans, regardless of offense type.
  • Over half of veterans (57 percent) were serving time for violent offenses, compared to 47 percent of non-veterans.
  • Nearly one in four veterans in state prison were sex offenders, compared to one in 10 non-veterans.
  • Veterans were more likely than other violent offenders in state prison to have victimized females and minors.
  • More than a third of veterans in state prison had maximum sentences of at least 20 years, life or death.

Improving Care for Homeless

  • Rates of suicide deaths among homeless individuals are approximately nine times higher than the general population (Poon et al, 2017).
  • Findings from the most recent Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress indicate that for every 10,000 people in the United States, 17 of them were experiencing homelessness (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2017a).
  • Significantly, 49% met criteria for a severe mental illness and/or a chronic substance use disorder. Based on Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) data from 8 states, among the approximately 59,000 homeless patients who visited and were released from the ED, about 17% received care related to suicide or intentional self-inflicted injury (Sun, Karaca, & Wong (AHRQ), 2014).

In a Zero Suicide approach, HBH providers should have practices in place that keep all patients at increased risk for suicide engaged in treatment, including attending to hard-to-reach populations such as homeless patients. During this webinar, presenters will share innovative and thoughtful ways they have successfully improved patient engagement and optimized safe care transitions for homeless individuals through their organizational policies and practices. By the end of this webinar, participants will be able to

(1) identify commonly experienced challenges in providing suicide care to homeless patients,
(2) describe unique suicide screening, risk assessment, and safety planning considerations for this population, and
(3) demonstrate how HBH organizations can establish meaningful partnerships with community organizations to augment safer suicide care practices for patients experiencing homelessness. Learn more and register here: 

A Whopping 76% Of Teachers Say Kids Come To School Hungry. Here’s What’s Being Done

After years of teaching elementary school, there’s one struggling student in particular that Robbie Butler cannot shake from her mind.

“Ms. Butler, I’m hungry,” the boy would tell her every day. “I don’t have any food at home.”

Butler is hardly alone in feeling concern for students who don’t have enough to eat and see their grades and prospects decline as a result.

A recent survey released by No Kid Hungry found that 76 percent of public school teachers reported students coming to school hungry regularly. While the study concluded that hunger is on the rise among children in the U.S. and that its consequences are immeasurable, the staff members polled agreed that a solution is already in sight.

The advocacy group surveyed more than 1,000 school employees nationwide to uncover the scope of the issue from those who are at the front lines.

For the first time ever, more than half of public school kids are from low-income families. Without proper nutrition, the students’ attendance, participation and social interactions precipitously suffer, the study concluded.

“Hunger is causing the demise of an entire generation that has so much potential,” Wintor McNeel, a guidance counselor, told No Kid Hungry. “These children are fighting for their lives daily.”

While these kids may not have stocked fridges at home, most public schools actually provide free breakfast. But because the programs often fail to cater to students’ logistical and emotional needs, many students don’t take advantage of the critical nourishment they need to thrive.

Nearly 10 million kids who qualify for free lunch, don’t eat free breakfast at school, according to a report released last month by the Food Research and Action Center. Many miss out either because the meal is served before school starts and kids can’t get there in time or because students are too ashamed to admit in front of their peers that their families can’t afford the basics.

But schools that have explored making minor tweaks — such as simply serving breakfast in the classroom so it feels less shameful — have reported increased participation in the program, which has led to rave results in their students’ studies.

When kids eat breakfast, 73 percent of teachers said students pay better attention in class and 53 percent reported higher attendance.

“This is the first year we’ve had a free breakfast program for all students,” Margot Shaver, a first-grade teacher, told No Kid Hungry. “Not only are we feeding their physical needs, we’re feeding their emotional needs. The light turns on; they’re able to function in the classroom.”

Homelessness and Mental Health: A Challenge to Our Society

What is the prevalence of mental illness among people experiencing homelessness in the U.S.?

According to a 2015 assessment by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 564,708 people were homeless on a given night in the United States. At a minimum, 140,000 or 25 percent of these people were seriously mentally ill, and 250,000 or 45 percent had any mental illness. By comparison, a 2016 study found that 4.2 percent of U.S. adults have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness.

What are the most common types of mental illness among people experiencing homelessness?

Affective disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and substance abuse disorders are among the most common types of mental illness in the homeless population.

How are homelessness and mental illness connected?

Most researchers agree that the connection between homelessness and mental illness is a complicated, two-way relationship. An individual’s mental illness may lead to cognitive and behavioral problems that make it difficult to earn a stable income or to carry out daily activities in ways that encourage stable housing. Several studies have shown, however, that individuals with mental illnesses often find themselves homeless primarily as the result of poverty and a lack of low-income housing. The combination of mental illness and homelessness also can lead to other factors such as increased levels of alcohol and drug abuse and violent victimization that reinforce the connection between health and homelessness.

Can homelessness exacerbate an existing mental illness?

Studies do show that homelessness can be a traumatic event that influences a person’s symptoms of mental illness. Having ever been homeless and the time spent homeless can be related to higher levels of psychiatric distress, higher levels of alcohol use and lower levels of perceived recovery in people with previous mental illness.

How do homelessness and mental illness influence a person's interactions with police and the justice system?

In general, homelessness among people with mental illness can lead to more encounters with police and the courts. For instance, rates of contact with the criminal justice system and victimization among homeless adults with severe symptoms such as psychosis, are higher than among housed adults with severe mental illness. Homeless adults with mental illness who experienced abuse or neglect in childhood are more likely to be arrested for a crime or be the victim of crime.

How does homelessness affect mental illness within families?

One of the biggest impacts of homelessness on mental illness comes through its effect on the mothers of families. For instance, mothers who experience postpartum depression during the first year after birth are at higher risk for homelessness or factors leading to homelessness such as evictions or frequent moves in the two to three years after the postpartum year. One of the largest studies of children and homelessness (17,000 children in Denmark) found a higher incidence of psychiatric disorders, including substance abuse, among adolescents with a mother or both parents with a history of homelessness.

What kinds of interventions help people with mental illness experiencing homelessness?

Programs that provide long-term (a year or longer) stable housing for people with mental illnesses can help to improve mental health outcomes, including reducing the number of visits to inpatient psychiatric hospitals. A 2015 study concluded that services that deliver cognitive and social skill training, particularly in developing and maintaining relationships, would be useful in helping people with mental illnesses and homelessness regain housing.

Oregon School Districts, Nonprofits Work To Re-Engage, Empower Youth Who Are Homeless - 5/10/21

Graduating high school in Oregon isn’t always easy. Even though last year the state saw the largest graduating class on record, 20% of seniors still didn’t graduate. That is despite graduation requirements being loosened during the COVID-19 pandemic. If students are worried about finances, food and housing — and experiencing homelessness — it is even harder to get a diploma.

Kathleen is a 22-year-old living in Eugene, Oregon. We’re not using her full name to protect her privacy. She’s a young mother of two kids and recently started working as a peer support specialist for a local non-profit that helps youth experiencing homlessness. But Kathleen’s own journey hasn’t been easy. Her experience with homelessness in high school almost prevented her from getting her diploma.

Kathleen has experienced trauma since the age of seven when her father died after suffering from schizophrenia and depression. Her mother struggled to take care of Kathleen and her three siblings. At the age of 14, Kathleen was sexually assaulted. A year later she decided to leave home.

“So I ran away and I was homeless for maybe six months before I found out I was pregnant with my son,” said Kathleen. “So I actually have another child. I gave him up for adoption because I was 16 and I was homeless and I wasn't ready to have a baby.”

After delivering her baby and giving him up, she found herself homeless again, camping in the woods with the father of her child and struggling to find food.

Needless to say, her education wasn’t her first priority.

But after receiving housing assistance from New Roads, an alternative education program for youth experiencing homeelssness, her entire life started to change. She was able to receive housing, earned her GED when she was 18, and was later able to pay for her housing all on her own while supporting her children.

“It had been years that I had been getting handouts from people,” said Kathleen. “And I'm grateful for all of them. I have a lifetime of debt to everybody that helped me get to where I am. But [now] I am really proud to say that, ‘I got this.’”

One of the people who helped her along the way was Julia Johnson, the Outreach and Re-engagement Specialist at the Eugene 4J School District.

Finding the Hardest to Reach Students

Johnson started in this position in 2015. She identifies struggling students before they drop out, finds youth who aren’t actively engaged in school, and works with educators to make sure students feel welcome when they return.

“My role is really managing the movement of students,” said Johnson. “And keeping track of them, and when they go away, building teams that help to get them back. And then educating the community that you can come back.”

To her knowledge, she’s the only person who specifically focuses on re-engagement in Lane County’s entire 16-district school system.

As part of the district’s alternative education referral team, she helps high school-aged students become re-engaged in learning so they can receive a diploma — whether that means graduating through their comprehensive high school, an alternative school, or getting a GED.

Since every student has different needs, it may not be immediately clear what the best course of action is to get them re-engaged. Johnson connects students with staff at the district’s reconnection center to develop an individualized re-engagement plan and provide social and emotional support. The district also works with students to redesign their plans, knowing that youth may need multiple education plans before finishing their high school.

There are other state-funded positions that address the educational needs of youth in foster care, students experiencing homelessness with a family and unaccompanied minors. They are known as McKinney Vento liaisons, based on a piece of federal legislation that mandates states ensure the educational rights and protections for these youth. These liaisons provide resources to the students they already know, or who are newly identified. But Johnson’s role is different — she finds any youth ages 21 and under who are struggling or aren’t engaged in school, including students who are young parents or experiencing homelessness.

Lack of Data Means It’s Hard to Know What’s Working

The caseloads for McKinney Vento liaisons in Oregon are heavy. During the last school year, over 20,000 students experienced homelessness. That’s quadruple the number since the program started. Still, the state saw the graduation rates for students experiencing homelssness increase slightly from 55.4% to 60.4% during the 2019-2023 school year.

But Sara Shaw,the Early Childhood Research Scientist with Child Trends, a national research organization focused on children's wellbeing, said the increase in graduation rates should be considered with a grain of salt.

“We know enrollment is down in school districts across Oregon,” said Shaw. “So is it that the hardest to reach students are students experiencing homelessness and they're not enrolled? Or is it the change in graduation requirements that has led to this increase?”

Shaw said there were two studies in 2001 and 2009 that show the implementation of the McKinney Vento act led to higher school attendance, and an increase in state testing for students experiencing homelessness. But she said there hasn’t been extensive research since the act was amended in 2015 to expand the responsibilities of the liaisons.

“There has not been a robust impact evaluation of the education for homeless children and youth program, which is authorized under the McKinney Vento Act,” said Shaw. “So we don't have a really clear sense of the impact of these programs.”

This isn’t the only data that isn’t tracked well. Oregon, like many states, does not have a coordinated data collection system to identify students through the public systems they interact with, such as the education system, housing systems, child welfare and juvenile justice.

“I think one of the challenges is that we're still kind of focused on just how do we identify all of the students before we even get to the point where we're talking about what are the best practices,” said Shaw.

Going Where the Youth Are

In order to streamline re-engagement services, especially during remote learning and the pandemic, the Eugene 4J district partnered with Youth Era in January. The non-profit, which works to remove stigma associated with homelessness, provides services to youth across Oregon as well as to a community in Pennsylvania.

According to the McKinney Vento Act, school districts are required to work with local organizations like Youth Era in order to provide services to help youth meet their basic needs. But this is one of a few collaborations that actually provides outreach to re-enroll students.

This rarity may also extend nationally. Sara Shaw with Child Trends previously surveyed shelter providers from across the country and asked them whether they had a formal relationship with their local McKinney Vento liaison. Only 50% said yes.

This summer, Youth Era will open one of the only low-barrier youth hostels in Lane County, known as Eugene Drop, which will provide young people with a place to sleep at no cost.

Now Johnson goes to the Eugene Drop to work with students three times a week. Johnson said her work in Oregon symbolizes a shift in school districts providing more than just instruction.

“I think the reason why it's successful is because they get connected to the people in their school, and then the people in their school are also the ones that are helping them,” said Johnson. “And that's just a really great relationship. It's beneficial for more than just meeting their needs — it then helps them to become more academically connected.”

One of the ways she finds students is by spending as much as 10 hours a week walking around the Eugene Public Library, dipping into alleys, passing through the Whitteaker neighborhood, and skanning other areas of downtown Eugene. Johnson said it’s worth the time because in order to do her job, she has to be where the kids are.

“I think it has to do with maybe some misconceptions that the students that we work with don't want to be in school,” said Johnson. “I don't necessarily think that's true. They may not prioritize it or know how to make it a priority. So when I go to their space, and I connect with them in their place where they're comfortable, and I value them or acknowledge that I’m there and then start the conversation, it tends to be a lot more productive.”

And it can be even harder to find kids now that the spaces they usually frequent — such as the library’s teen center — are closed due to the pandemic. Last summer she was reduced to connecting with students over the phone by calling or texting because the district didn’t allow in-person engagement. Since she doesn’t know if youth will go back to the same spaces as buildings reopen, it’s still difficult to find youth.

Tracking Progress

It is hard to track tangible success rates for the students Johnson's worked with. That’s because the data doesn’t exist. It's technically outside of the measurables that schools look at such as attendance, GPA, test scores, or GED and graduation rates. Tracking that data would require the district to follow the progression of individual students across many different metrics throughout their high school career — something the district is unlikely to have the capacity to do.

Even if this data was tracked, Johnson wonders if the way education systems measure outcomes needs to change due to the inequities students experiencing homelessness face when trying to receive a “traditional” education.

“Do we continue to ask students that have really challenging lives to, you know, ‘Buck up and live differently beyond their own circumstances?’” Johnson said, “Or do we begin to look at, what does success look like for students under these circumstances, and do we change the outcomes so that they can be successful? Because in a lot of ways they are.”

County-Wide Effort Could Increase Graduation Rates

Other organizations such as Connected Lane County, which works with the Lane Education Service District, is trying to re-engage students across the county and provide them with services to meet their basic needs, receive a high school diploma and pursue a career.

In less than a year, the organization has re-enrolled 250 youth who had dropped out.

Jenna Ely has been a youth employment facilitator with Connected Lane County since January. Her position was created through the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) — a federal grant given to communities to focus on education and employment support for unhoused youth. Not only does the funding support case management, it pays students for their jobs and helps youth purchase supplies such as work boots, clothing items or driver's ed testing.

Ely works with youth who are unhoused, living in cars, in transitional living, or in a juvenile justice program. As of now, two of the 13 youth Ely works with are sleeping on the street or in their vehicles. But once her caseload expands to 35 youth in June, she expects she’ll be working with an increased number of youth living on the streets.

Ely is currently assisting a 17-year-old who has been unenrolled in school for the past two years while they and their sibling navigated couch surfing, camping by the river and staying in trailers. But after getting a housing unit two months ago at a local transitional living program, they were able to re-enroll in school within a month.

“If you can get a youth into housing, you can lay a foundation for them to feel safe enough to start seeking out other services, including education and employment,” said Ely.

Although programs like these have been helpful, Julia Johnson still wishes there was a way to work with other school districts in the area. Students who have gained assistance through the McKinney Vento Act have the right to stay at their original school district if they move. But other barriers, such as transportation, often prevent students from using that option, and provide youth with less autonomy.

“I wish there was a coordinated way to move with these students that was more overarching over all the school districts,” said Johnson. “So that we could talk about the programs that each school district has — how could they be more aligned? How could they be more familiar as a student moves from one part of the community to another part of the community, and all of a sudden they're in a new school district? I run into that a lot.”

Rural Non-Profit is a Leader in Youth Re-Engagement

But once students are re-enrolled in school, it can be difficult for them to stay enrolled and finish high school while continuing to navigate homelessness.

Jaerod is a 19-year-old high school senior in Medford. He’s had some challenges graduating high school. He was unable to graduate after he switched schools last year and some of his credits for subjects didn’t transfer. This is his second year as a 12th grader and if he wants to graduate, he’ll have to continue school next fall.

But Jaerod has a lot going on. He’s been living in a motel for about four months while he waits for his grandmother to be released from a hospital.

“I can't really focus on the school as much as I should because of the whole, ‘I don't know where I'm going to be or what I'm doing in a couple of weeks from now,’” said Jaerod. “So it's kind of gotten to a point where it's like, I can focus on school only as much as my brain lets me focus on school. Which is not much anymore.”

Even though he’s staying with his uncle, they both have a disability, making it hard to maintain a steady cash flow. Jaerod said he has been trying to figure out if their health insurance can pay for their motel stay. But he’s also trying to find a more permanent solution so his family members can move into a house. He’s also looking after his teenage sister.

Throughout this time he’s been able to rely on the Maslow Project, a nonprofit that works with the local school district and connects youth experiencing homelessness with resources. Jaerod has used the program off and on for the past five years.

The organization has a housing manager who works with two housing units to help youth find shelter. But when there aren’t vacancies, her hands are tied when it comes to helping youth like Jaerod get off of waiting lists. Still, the Maslow Project has been helping him navigate the application for a local transitional living program, as well as academic assistance.

“Maslow was really helpful getting me what I need to make sure I keep a roof over my head,” said Jaerod. “They brought me some paperwork the other day to fill out for transitional living. And Stephanie here got me a sketchbook the other day to keep my mind off things. Because I have intense anxiety and depression so I overthink everything.”

Stephanie Polendey is a Student Success Advocate with the Maslow Project. She’s only worked for the non-profit for a year and said one of the reasons she joined the team is because she wanted to provide more social and emotional support to youth through harm reduction techniques.

“I think there's a lot of sort of band aid services that are just, ‘oh, like we'll give you a hot meal, we'll give you [a] temporary shower setup or whatever, but it's not deeply rooted to try to actually build [and] help guide people to long term success,” said Polendy.

How Many Homeless Youth Complete Higher Education? It’s Unknown

Higher education is not for everyone. Polendey said only about 25% of her current caseload are youth who are aspiring to go to college or university. A lot of her students don’t want to attend a college or a university right out of high school, or at all. Some would rather have a full-time job or pursue a vocational career by starting with an internship or apprenticeship.

There is data on the number of students statewide who graduated while experiencing homelessnes and then enrolled in higher education. But it’s unclear how many of these students stayed enrolled throughout their higher education career. That’s because this data is also not tracked.

A partnership between the Oregon Department of Education, the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Committee and the Oregon Economic Development Administration, to collect this data could change this. But in order to do this, they would need consistent data from institutions, and more funding from the state to fill data analyst positions — funding that experts say is unlikely to be available this year.

Still, tracking graduation and college enrollment and retention data could help determine what youth like Kathleen and Jaerod need in order to pursue higher education. She’s interested in going to college, but she’s not quite sure how she’s going to juggle school, a job and parenthood all at the same time. Let alone actually afford higher education.

“I thought about going to college before,” said Kathleen. “And it just seemed very complicated to try and do all the scholarship stuff. It just seemed complicated and a very long process.”

Gentleman With a Family

Written by Cheryl, Bentyne & Marc Jordan
The Manhattan Transfer from The Offbeat of Avenues

Scarecrow, weathered and weary
Fragile and old beyond his years.
Here we are - chosen.
In your eyes, the truth lies frozen.

Soldier in the city heat
Refugee on every street.
And life goes by
Standing in the pouring rain.

He's a gentleman with a family.
A gentle man, living day to day.
He's a gentleman with pride,
one may conclude.
Sign reads, "Gentleman with a family
Will work for food".

Shadows haunting his tired eyes
Reaching beyond the empty hand.
Here we are - the chosen
In your eyes, the truth lies frozen.

Soldier in the city heat
Refugee on any street.
And life goes by
An apostle to these worn out souls.

He's a gentleman with a family.
A gentle man, living day to day.
He's a gentleman with pride,
one may conclude.
Sign reads, "Gentleman with a family
Will work for food".

Next time you might think what happened in that person's life to bring them to where they are.
It could be your next door neighbor in a couple of years. And, it could be you.

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