Letter: State must help its homeless students

Published: 8/16/2020 12:01:14 AM

Gov. Chris Sununu’s decision to divert $1.5 million CARES Act dollars to nonpublic schools leaves thousands of New Hampshire students in educational peril. Public schools need adequate funds to ensure the educational rights and protections for New Hampshire’s homeless students.

U.S. Department of Education data show nearly 4,000 homeless students enrolled in New Hampshire public schools. Yet homelessness is underreported. Social stigma and fear keep homeless families silent and hidden from sight. Unaccompanied homeless youth struggle to balance education with basic survival needs.

The McKinney-Vento Act requires public schools to appoint a local homeless education liaison. Liaison responsibilities became even more challenging by complications of COVID-19. The work is exhausting, frustrating, and heart-breaking. It will get worse. When school buildings closed, thousands of homeless students were educationally, emotionally, and socially set adrift. Homeless youth became more vulnerable to unsafe and dangerous living situations, including predation and trafficking.

Unprecedented job loss and layoffs are leading to more family homelessness. With a 57% increase in food insecurity across the state, 23% of New Hampshire’s children are unsure of their next meal. Research shows and New Hampshire data support that food insecurity and lack of stable housing have deleterious and long-term effects on health and learning.

Homeless students pay the price for the lack of state commitment. Funds are needed to provide homeless students educational opportunities and supports to succeed. Federal dollars can begin to chip away at the educational inequities faced by homeless students. Education isn’t the only answer to end child homelessness; it’s the path out of homelessness.

LYNDA THISTLE ELLIOTT

Concord




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