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“An estimated 39 percent of sheltered homeless children missed more than one week of school in the past three months and changed schools from two to five times in the last 12 months. Absenteeism and school mobility are among the major mechanisms that impact school success for children living in homeless families and for unaccompanied youth. Across age levels, homelessness impacts academic achievement and homeless children’s reading, spelling, and mathematics scores are more often below grade level, compared to housed children” (Aratani, 2009).

Almost half of sheltered homeless children merit a special education evaluation. Yet, less than 23 percent of those with any disability had ever received a special education evaluation or special education services (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009). A study of homeless children in Worcester, MA found that homeless children were twice as likely as their peers to have clinical or borderline clinical mental health problems. While a Boston study noted that homeless children were nearly three times as likely to exhibit developmental delays (Duffield and Lovell, 2008). Among homeless school-age children 47% have problems such as anxiety, depression, and withdrawal, compared to 18% of other school-age children. Furthermore, children experiencing homelessness are four times more likely to show delayed development and have twice the rate of learning disabilities as non-homeless children (The National Center on Family Homelessness, 2008).

Implications for the future

As Chicago HOPES expands, an essential element of its progress will be its ability to evaluate its programming and to and make essential adjustments. By focusing on the organizational effectiveness of the program a continued assessment will serve (1) to assess how Chicago HOPES might adjust organizationally and educationally to more effectively serve the academic and social needs of sheltered homeless youth within Chicago; and (2) to determine the portability and sustainability of the program components for implementation into different regional and national venues.


Janelle is a Chicago HOPES student. She and her mother have been in various shelters for over 18 months, trying to find some stability while her mom worked three jobs. Without question, homelessness has been detrimental to Janelle’s education. She failed the sixth and seventh grades, leaving her as a 14-year-old eighth grader. Moreover, when she entered the Chicago HOPES program, she was behind grade level in each of her core subjects.

After six months with Chicago HOPES, she is passing all her classes and is at grade level in all core subjects, save math. Her mother believes Chicago HOPES has been the catalyst.

“It’s you guys. It’s tutoring,” she said. “It’s someone coming in here and showing her how to study, when to study, and most importantly, it’s someone coming in and showing her what the effects will be if she focuses on her education.”

While Janelle’s results appear characteristic of all Chicago HOPES students, the program is just one intervention attempting to reverse course on a national crisis – the effects of homelessness on education. Chicago HOPES and other youth homeless programs provide a starting point, but it is imperative to perfect and implement further interventions.

The number of homeless students living in shelters in Illinois and nationally is increasing and it behooves the educational community to closely examine viable intervention programs for homeless youth, for which Chicago HOPES may serve as a model in other venues. This goal is not only consistent with the conclusion of the final report from the Office of Human Services Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services which stipulates that “a great deal is known about homeless families and their needs. There are ranges of health, mental health, child welfare, substance abuse, and other service needs and involvement, though little is known about various responses to interventions in these areas” (Rog, Holupka,&Patton, 2007) but by other recognized organizations and researchers who focus on homelessness.

“While they are experiencing homelessness, however, it is essential that children remain in school. School is one of the few stable, secure places in the lives of homeless children and youth -- a place where they can acquire the skills needed to help them escape poverty” (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009).

“…academic interventions for homeless children should be adapted to accommodate the crisis nature of sheltered homeless families and include parental education and mechanisms for continued care once the family obtains stable housing. Furthermore …educational services for homeless children should be a component of a comprehensive package of services that assist families in obtaining permanent housing. These programs could require participation of the schools, shelters, and routine health care practitioners, as well as inclusion of parental education. Without such timely intervention, however, the emotional and behavioral problems and severe academic delays of homeless children will go untreated, threatening the development of these children at a critical period in their lives and robbing them of the fundamental opportunity to gain the emotional tools and academic skills necessary for fully productive and independent lives” (Zima Wells,&Freeman, 1994).


Aratani, Y. (2009). Homeless children and youth: Causes and consequences. National Center for Children in Poverty , 1-14.

Chicago Public Schools (2009). Homeless Education Statistical Report :. Chicago, IL: Author.

Duffield, B.&Lovell, P. (2008). The Economic Crisis Hits Home: The Unfolding Increase in Child&Youth Homelessness, National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

National Coalition for the Homeless (2009). Education of homeless children and youth. Washington, DC: Author.

Rafferty, Y.&Shinn, M. (1991). The impact of homelessness on children. American Psychologist, 46 , 11, 1170-1179.

Rog, D. J, Holupka,, C.S.&. Patton, L.C. (2007 ) . Characteristics and Dynamics of Homeless Families with Children: Final Report. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Office of Human Services Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The National Center on Family Homelessness (2008). The characteristics and needs of families experiencing homelessness. Newton Centre, MA: Author.

Zima, B. T., Wells, K. B.,&Freeman, H.E. (1994). Emotional and behavioral problems and severe academic delays among sheltered homeless children in Los Angeles County. American Journal of Public Health , 84 . 2. 260-264.

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Source:  OpenStax, Education leadership review special issue: portland conference, volume 12, number 3 (october 2011). OpenStax CNX. Oct 17, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11362/1.5
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