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Count Me! Santa Clara County's Homeless Youth

News & Reports

Tips for Teachers When A Student Is Couch Surfing

#1: Tips for School Administrators and Teachers for Supporting Their Students Who are Homeless
As a result of the lack of shelters, most students in homeless situations share housing with others temporarily (referred to as “couch surfing”). These situations are precarious, damaging, crowded, unstable, and often unsafe, leading to extraordinary rates of mobility.
The National Center for Homeless Education, the National Association for the Education of Homeless Youth and Children, and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty collaborated to write a brief that shared common signs of homelessness students may display, including the following:
• Lack of Continuity in Education – Homeless youth have moved around a lot and attended a number of schools. They often haven't developed the skills many of their peers exhibit.
• Poor Health and Nutrition – Hoarding of food, consistently falling asleep in class, and a lack of medical records are all examples of signs that youth may exhibit in this category.
• Transportation and Attendance Problems – Youth are often absent or tardy and don't participate in field trips or other school activities.
• Poor Hygiene – Hair is often unwashed and youth wear the same clothes for days at a time.
• Lack of Personal Space After School – Youth consistently fail to complete or turn in homework. They also don't have basic school supplies or are very protective of the materials they do have in their possession.
• Social and Behavioral Concerns – Youth who are homeless may have poor self-esteem and self-confidence or find it difficult to trust people.
• Reactions or Statements by Family Member or Youth – When asked about a current address, they get flustered and angry or come up with excuses for why they can't remember it offhand.
How to Respond to Homeless Students
If a case of homelessness is confirmed, it's important that administration and teachers work to help the child/youth have a stable environment at school.
• Establish a consistent and stable routine. Maintaining a consistent, yet flexible routine will help the child feel safe and in control.
• Help the youth feel valued by reinforcing their self-esteem. Being homeless means the youth will feel helpless and insecure. Be sure you make an effort to help them feel valued and special by greeting them at the door, talking with them, and showing interest in their thoughts and ideas.
• Give youth plenty of opportunities to make choices and express themselves. Being able to make choices will help youth feel in control of what will happen, and opportunities for self-expression can help children/youth work through the emotions that come with being homeless.
• Try to establish trust while also preparing the youth to move on to another program. Homeless families and children are often in transition, so try to spend as much one-on-one time with the homeless youth as possible to establish trust in the time they are in your care. You can prepare the youth to move on once the family has permanent housing by talking to the next teacher.
• Make sure the youth and his or her family knows who they can reach out to for help. Encourage the youth to talk to you or a guidance counselor, and give the youth's family contact information for community agencies that assist homeless families; mental health and family service centers; and food, clothing, and housing support services.
• Have local youth/family homeless services on your school campus.
• Educate administration and teachers about the issue of homelessness, definition of homelessness, as well as the local homeless services available in your community.
• Be available to provide immediate assistance and support to students who are facing homelessness.

For further information on assisting homeless students and families, contact Bill Wilson Center at 408 243-0222.

#2. Tips for Teachers When A Student Is Couch surfing
You might not realize it, but you may have students who are experiencing homelessness in your school. When we think of this population, we most often envision people living in shelters or on the streets. We fail to realize that students living in doubled-up accommodations or couch surfing are homeless as well. There are many reasons why a youth ends up couch-surfing….conflict at home, poverty, death in the family, etc.

• Have a casual conversation asking how they are and how things are at home. Let them know you are aware things might be tough, but that you have all kinds of resources to help out.
• Ask if they or their family needs food, clothes or maybe help with transportation. The student may be unwilling to talk about it, but let them know that you can help if/when they need it.
• Be sure and maintain their confidentiality, many youth are embarrassed by their situation and may not want others to know.
• Encourage the youth to talk to you or a guidance counselor.
• Problem-solve with student on possible resources including family counseling (if that is appropriate), housing support, community services that could assist, etc.
• Assist the student in accessing services by connecting them to resources.
• Support the youth in staying in school.