Hope for Homeless Students

By L. Arthur Safer, Robert K. Wilhite, Tanner L. Kroeger, and Susan L. Mann

It’s difficult for Daniel to stop smiling. The 13-year-old New Orleans native and honor roll student seems to have a pervading sense of happiness. His optimism is contagious -- and remarkable: He is a Hurricane Katrina transplant and is now homeless in Chicago’s South Side.

The hurdles facing Daniel are staggering. He lives in a homeless shelter with his mother and 4-year-old brother. Life in the shelter is chaotic. Babies cry constantly. Some mothers scream, cursing at their children and each other. Daniel is the second-oldest male in the shelter, which provides refuge to female victims of domestic violence. The streets outside are a war zone. While Daniel has been living here, a teenage boy was fatally shot only a few doors away from the shelter.

Unfortunately, Daniel is not alone in his predicament. In Chicago, at least 12,685 students were identified as homeless in 2009. The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) estimates this number climbed to 15,000 in 2010. More than 3,000 CPS students live in homeless shelters similar to Daniel’s. Of this number, 41 percent attended two different Chicago schools within one school year, while 28 percent attended three or more -- accentuating their loss of educational time and exposure to instruction in the classroom. The constant moving also affects their cognitive development, behavior, and physical and mental health.

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