Lost in the Masked Shuffle & Virtual Void: Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness Amidst the Pandemic

This report is prepared by SchoolHouse Connection and Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan.

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Schools provide safety, stability, and services for children and youth experiencing homelessness, as well as the education that is necessary to avoid homelessness as adults. However, in order to benefit from targeted educational protections and services, children and youth must first be identified as experiencing homelessness. New survey data suggests that an estimated 420,000 fewer children and youth experiencing homelessness have been identified and enrolled by schools so far this school year – despite evidence of increasing homelessness, and despite proactive identification efforts by many school district homeless liaisons. This decrease in homeless student enrollment, combined with previous estimates of under-identification, means that as many as 1.4 million children and youth experiencing homelessness may be un-identified and unsupported by their school during the pandemic. Survey responses also demonstrate significant unmet basic needs, as well as the failure of federal CARES Act dollars to reach children and youth experiencing homelessness. If our nation is ever to recover from COVID-19, we must increase outreach to and support for children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness through public schools and early childhood programs, and prioritize their education and well-being in all public systems of care.

“I am concerned they are getting lost in the ‘masked’ shuffle, or in the virtual void. With so many things that folks are attending to, I just fear our kiddos experiencing homelessness will become even more invisible than they already are.”
– Homeless Liaison

Key Findings

“Some have been due to loss of income and inability to pay rent, as they were already on the verge and this was the tipping point. Others have been in situations where they were doubled-up, and due to having many people under one roof, stress levels are far higher…leading to domestic violence and fleeing or in other cases, just leaving because it was getting too stressful.”
– Homeless Liaison


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“We have multiple questions embedded in our enrollment process to help identify families who may be experiencing homelessness. Our enrollment team reaches out to me before students are even enrolled if there is a possible homeless situation so that I can follow up and make a determination/offer support. We have homeless information on our website, posted in our office, and included in our monthly newsletter that is sent to students and families. I have developed a staff training that is required of all staff every year.”
– Homeless Liaison
North Carolina