Homelessness impacts students of all ages and can have adverse effects on their education. Not only does being without a home or in an unstable housing situation affect a student's ability to study and pass their classes, but it also makes them more likely to be disciplined by their schools. A higher rate of suspensions and expulsions compounds homeless students' struggles and sets back their educational progress.
When some student groups face disparate outcomes, how “fair” can K-12 and university justice be?
Homeless Students Face More Disciplinary Action
A recent analysis published by the University of Michigan's Poverty Solutions initiative found that current and formerly homeless students experience suspension and expulsions at a higher rate in Michigan public schools than their always-housed peers. The authors gathered data from the 2017-2018 school year and found that homeless students were at least four times more likely to be suspended or expelled. They also noted that formerly homeless Black students were disproportionately affected, facing disciplinary action at four times the rate of the formerly homeless Asian students (27% vs. 7%).
The study focused on Michigan public schools, but homelessness and student discipline are nationwide issues.
Why do homeless K-12 students see more disciplinary action from administrators? When students have an unstable housing situation, they have difficulty being on time for school or showing up for classes. According to one of the University of Michigan study authors Jennifer Erb-Downward, they may also act out more in school because they are dealing with the trauma of being homeless. Forcing students to leave school through suspension or expulsion may actually make the problem worse by taking away the one stable location they have in their lives.
Hidden Homelessness on College Campuses
Struggles with homeless or unstable housing do not simply go away when students go to college. The Wisconsin HOPE Lab and Temple University published a study that found that one-third of all postsecondary learners felt insecure about their housing situation, and nine percent identified themselves as homeless.
At the university level, homelessness often stems from:
- Lack of sufficient income: College is expensive and many students may lack financial support from their parents to cover tuition, fees, and housing.
- No affordable housing: The gap between the minimum wage and housing rental costs is widening, and even college students who work a minimum wage job don't have enough to cover housing.
- Family conflict: Many young people say they cannot live at home due to violence, neglect, physical or mental abuse, or severe conflict.
What Can School Districts and Universities Do?
Some programs to address homelessness among K-12 students are already underway, such as providing social-emotional learning specialists or homelessness and foster care liaisons. At the university level, many colleges offer some kind of food assistance program, as unstable housing and food insecurity often go hand in hand.
At all educational levels, having an advocate for students dealing with current or former homelessness can help reduce the likelihood of disciplinary action being taken against them. When schools and universities provide the right resources, homeless students don't have to face greater disciplinary action than their peers.
If you are a student who's been unfairly accused of campus misconduct and need a specialist to defend your rights, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686.