There are more than one million homeless K through 12 students in America, and in Missouri, the number of students without permanent homes has doubled over the past five years.
If you’re like us you find those statistics daunting, but what do they mean?
With that in mind, today we’re peeling back the data to understand the impact rising homelessness is having on education.
In the second of this two part series, we take a look at the challenges faced by students who don’t have a stable place to call home.
It’s a crystal clear recent morning and teenage brothers Chauntus and Dontriez Silverson are squaring off in a heated game of one on one.
Sure, there’s a little trash talking, an obligatory trick shot attempt, and a blatant foul goes completely unnoticed.
Teenage brothers feverishly out to best each other; it’s the height of normalcy.
But there’s more to their story.
Both are part of a rapidly growing number of homeless students in Missouri and across the nation.
At 19-years old, Chauntus is the older of the two, tall and wiry, he can easily dunk a basketball.
He carries around an air of quiet toughness.
Chauntrus graduated last year and says he paid no mind to kids who teased him about not having a change of clothes or nice things.
“I didn’t really care what people think,” he says. “I just stayed in my own little zone, whatever they think, that’s just their opinion.”
But his younger brother, Dontriez, is different.
At 17 years old, his features are softer and he stands about six inches shorter than his big brother.
“It made me feel down about myself, like I didn’t have anything, because you know people are behind you, talking about you, laughing at you,” Dontriez says. “So, it’s harder to focus, harder to get your grades up.”
The challenge of going without a stable home
Going without a stable home can seriously affect students.
Shaelene Plank is director of community services for Epworth Youth Emergency Service, which operates the shelter where the brothers are staying.
Their mother and little sister are staying at a separate shelter.
She says kids often go to bed hungry in an endless churn of crisis after crisis.
“The children and youth in these situations, they’re exposed to too much, things that most of us try to shelter our children from, the adult worries and stresses of life, and it’s hard on a kid,” Plank says.
That can lead to host of metal health or behavioral issues.
“It’s unstable and they’re caring about mom,” says Gail Sweet, a therapist at Epworth. “ It’s very hard to focus on school when your family is homeless and you don’t know what’s coming next, or where we’re going to go or what’s going to happen.”
Schoolwork Can Take A Back Seat
And in the midst of all that turmoil, school work often takes a backseat.
“Every time these kids move, they change schools, they lose their teachers, their friends, any little semblance of normalcy and it really sets them back,” says Barbara Duffield, the Policy Director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.
She says sudden shifts in a child’s living situation can create long-term academic challenges.
“Students who are homeless have higher dropout rates, lower graduation rates, even when you compare it to other poor kids who have stable housing,” Duffield says.
Back at the basketball court in a University City Parking lot 17-year-old Dontriez Silverson is telling me about what he wants to be when he grows up.
He loves animated movies, and maybe, just maybe, someday he can be animator, but those plans seem a long way off.
Dontriez left the alternative high school he was attending.
He tried to focus on his school work and forget about the troubles his family is facing, but sometimes he just couldn’t.
“If you think that something’s bad going to happen at the time, then it’s most likely going to happen,” he says. “If you think something different is going to happen, like something good, eventually it’s going to happen. So, that’s what I do.”
Now, Dontriez is hoping to start the climb from GED classes, to community college to four year school.
His big brother Chauntus is looking for steady work.
While an official report won’t be released until October, officials with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education expect the number of homeless students to have risen again this year.
Follow Tim Lloyd on Twitter: @TimSLloyd