November 20, 2020
Pennsylvania's legislators are raising awareness about the problem of students experiencing homelessness, as members of the state House and Senate each unanimously passed resolutions introduced by Philadelphia politicians this week.
During the 2018-2019 school year, more than 39,000 children in Pennsylvania schools experienced homelessness, which is an increase of 8%, according Bullock's office. The School District of Philadelphia, the state's largest school district, counted 3,270 homeless children enrolled in its schools in 2018-2019, which is about 1.6% of the district student population.
The COVID-19 health crisis adds an additional strain on the issue this year, as many people across the country could face evictions or lose their jobs as the pandemic persists.
"Statistics like those are alarming and show the need for help and support," Bullock said. "It is critical especially at a time like this when we are facing so many obstacles with Covid. If the numbers looked like that last year, there is no doubt they are even more dire now."
It designated the week of Nov. 16 as "Students Experiencing Homelessness Awareness Week" and Nov. 20 as "Red Shirt Day," an effort to raise awareness and encourage homeless students to seek help and support.
People need to remember homelessness does not just mean living on the streets, Farnese said. And the causes can be varied, too. Children become homeless or housing insecure for a variety of reasons. It be because of drug abuse or domestic violence impacting their families. Also parental job loss is a factor, and in some instances LGBTQ youth have left or been forced from their homes because of their sexual orientation and how they identify.
"We should not be making the lives of children who are experiencing homelessness any more difficult," Farnese said. "By raising awareness, we are shining a spotlight on this issue, but every day of the year we should be working to protect children experiencing homelessness."
School districts are required to accommodate homeless students by the federal McKinney-Vento Act.
"This may mean providing accommodations for transportation from wherever the student is staying to providing additional services to ensure the student is able to keep up with their classmates," Bullock said.