Statewide Survey Sheds Light on Student Needs During COVID-19 Crisis

May 8, 2020

Pandemic-related school closures have created additional barriers to education and basic needs for students experiencing homelessness. In the meantime, school staff across the state have adapted new strategies and methods to support students at this time. To identify students’ most immediate needs, Schoolhouse Washington, a project of Building Changes, surveyed McKinney-Vento liaisons across the state who work directly with highly mobile students and their families. In return, we received responses from liaisons in 74 school districts across 32 counties who collectively serve nearly 17,000 students experiencing homelessness in Washington State.

The top five needs identified by survey respondents were: food, mobile hotspots/internet access, devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, computers, phones), hygiene supplies, and rental assistance. Narrative responses shed light on what school districts are doing to try to meet basic needs, increase educational access, and stay connected with students and their families. Some promising practices have emerged, such as the formation of new and creative community partnerships. However, just as illuminating are issues and student populations that did not show up in survey responses, such as equity, English language learners, students living with disabilities, and survivors of domestic violence.

Findings from this survey provide valuable insight into the immediate needs of students experiencing homelessness and are informing how we, as a community, can respond to student homelessness now. Here are the ways the survey has informed our work so far:

  • In partnership with the Raikes Foundation, Building Changes created the Washington State Student and Youth Homelessness COVID-19 Response Fund, which is providing emergency funds to schools and organizations that are working closely with students, youth, and young adults experiencing homelessness in their communities.
  • We have joined with advocacy partners—College Success Foundation, The Mockingbird Society, and Treehouse—to provide concrete recommendations to Governor Inslee and Superintendent Reykdal on how to allocate federal emergency education funds to support students and youth experiencing homelessness.

Through our continued partnerships with school staff, we hope to learn more about ways we can strengthen support for students at this time. Read the summary of findings from our survey to see where students experiencing homelessness in our state need the most support currently.

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