When it comes to understanding homelessness, do we need to go back to class? We asked our Outer North Youth Homelessness Service if homelessness needs a bigger profile in schools.
“A lot of young people have nowhere to go but no idea they are homeless’’
– Felicity McKeever, Case Manager, Outer North Youth Homelessness Service
Disengaging with school is one of the biggest indicators of youth homelessness. Sometimes this sign is missed because of the assumption that students have family support and a safe place to go when the bell rings.
At the same time, the students themselves might not identify as being homeless because they do not understand their predicament or the challenges they are facing. Therefore they don’t reach out for help.
Well-informed school communities can play a crucial role in connecting vulnerable young people to specialist supports.
Education can also go a long way to shaping our understanding of homelessness and how to prevent it, while challenging the stereotypes and stigma that surround it.
We have seen what community awareness campaigns and respectful education programs in schools have done to bring domestic violence out of the shadows in recent years. What if the same applied to homelessness?
If students, parents and teachers knew more sooner, would the impact later be less?
Felicity McKeever is a Case Manager with Outer North Youth Homelessness Service (ONYHS) and says young people and the adults around them often do not understand the severity of their situation.
“A lot of young people have nowhere to go but no idea they are homeless,’’ Felicity says.
“If they had a greater understanding of what homelessness looks like from a young age, and where to go to get help, they might reach out for support sooner – before they’re in crisis.
“Maybe you are a parent and your child’s friend is sleeping on your couch. Do you ask why they can’t go home?
“If you are a teacher and notice a student is often absent from school, do you follow it up with the family?
“If children knew more about homelessness sooner, before they’re at an age when judgement sets in, it might change the way we all look at homelessness later.’’