Homelessness And Poverty: A Harsh Reality For Students And Families

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Imagine you’ve just lost your home. Not because you are moving but because you have no other choice but to leave. Now imagine you have no other place to stay. You either have the option of staying in a local park, or if you’re lucky, a car in which you own. This is a sad reality for many including some students here at WSHS.

There are many paths to homelessness. Some parents are facing unemployment and have gone through many struggles to hit rock bottom. Some teenagers have decided to live on their own without any guardianship.

Homeless is often identified as someone who doesn’t have a shelter to live in. However, the federal definition of homelessness is when a person lacks a regular and adequate nighttime residence, according to the National Healthcare for Homelessness Council. Hotels, motels, cars, and campgrounds are not considered homes. People forced to live in these places do so because they don’t have any other available housing option.

Living in these circumstances can cause students to lose interest in school and become depressed. Feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment are natural reactions when homeless or living in poverty. Watching other people purchase items without any effort and seeing peoples lavish lifestyles on social media increase these feelings.

According to the Department of Educations 2018 report card, 38.4 % of the students in West Springfield schools would be considered economically disadvantaged. The number of students who are homeless is more difficult to acquire because students do not always reveal this information.

According to an article called “Homeless Students and Education” by Derek Vasconi and Katy McWhirter, between 2008 and 2014, homelessness in public schools increased by 90%, from 680,000 to more than 1.3 million students.

Although there are no easy solutions, there are ways struggling students can receive support. Our school districts social worker, Mrs. Broadhurst, is a homeless person liaison. “If we know a student is homeless, we will refer families to them so they can help them outside of school. Inside of school, counselor s can make sure the student is getting free lunch. We can help them with clothing and hygiene supplies from our Terrier Closet, and we can help them communicate to teachers their needs for help in the classroom. We can also refer them to the Open Pantry if they are in need of food,” said Mrs. Quigley, WSHS Adjustment Counselor.

Teachers and classmates are often unaware of the circumstances students are under because a students anxiety and embarrassment sometimes keeps them from revealing their living conditions. High school students often keep these struggles to themselves so people don’t change the way they think of them. “I tried not to show it to other people, and I still hide the fact that I once was homeless,” said one sophomore who wished to remain anonymous. She was homeless as a freshman in high school.

“There are students who ask to talk with me to share this information, however, there are many more who not and we find out through conversations about other topics. When students share with me that are homeless, I believe they are looking for support and understanding of what is happening outside of school. They are often feeling over whelmed and sometimes have difficulties focusing on school work,” said Mrs. Quigley.

Studies show that homeless students have higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems, have increased risk of serious health problems, are more likely to experience separations from their families, and experience more school mobility, repeat a grade, be expelled or drop out of school, and have lower academic performance.

“I couldn’t be at school either because at the time we couldn’t even afford a home and we just got out of Florida. They didn’t want for me to come to this school, because I lived at a motel outside of West Springfield. We had to stick within our district. I missed about two months worth of school. We had to lie about where we had lived. I was so depressed,” revealed the previously quoted sophomore.

Sports and extracurricular activities often aren’t an option for students living in poverty because parents can’t financially support them or provide transportation. Everything can seem pointless or useless when something so important as having a home is missing. Feeling a mix of emotions including embarrassment or helplessness, teens often turn to drugs or alcohol to get away from reality. Stress and depression are at an all-time high for both the parents and the children who are dealing with homelessness.

The article, “11 facts Homeless Teens” revealed, “of youth who run away, 41% have been abandoned by their parents for at least 24 hour s and 43% have been beaten by a caretaker, and about 80% of homeless youth (aged 12-21) use drugs or alcohol as a means to self-medicate to deal with the traumatic experiences and abuse they face. Because they live in these conditions, they might have been influenced into taking drugs by other kids or adults, used as a coping means to satisfy hunger, and or to stay awake for extended periods of time.”

Teens often feel like they are a burden to their families when they’re struggling with finding a home. “I feel like I can’t buy anything for myself and help my family. I feel like I’m wasting the money that they worked hard for when they’re poor and not able to afford anything.”

As students struggle to find homes, it’s often difficult to find someone who can under stand and support them during this time of crisis. If someone has a friend that has been struggling, then they should try to be there for that person. Try to coach them into getting help. Different methods need to be explored for those who are homeless. No one should face it alone.