Basic Needs
Published: March 31, 2020
Basic needs refers to the essential resources necessary for physical health and well-being in a school setting, and can range from material items (e.g., food, clean water, clothing, safe shelter) to transportation services and acquiring life skills.

Students and families experiencing homelessness may not have resources and access to basic needs to survive. When students’ basic needs are not met, they cannot focus on learning and social development in school.

Schools and community-based organizations should provide a variety of ways to meet the basic needs of both students and their families.

(Note: Acronyms following recommendations indicate sources for those recommendations. See the Sources Key for details.)

Items and Supplies

Goal 1:

Students and families experiencing homelessness are provided with additional basic needs and support in schools to ensure students’ academic success.

Recommendations & Strategies
  1. Schools should provide tangible items that will help students and families. (PE, LE)
    • Strategy 1: Implement in-school food programs or backpack programs (that is, schools discreetly provide backpacks filled with food for the weekend or longer school-calendar breaks).
    • Strategy 2: Provide extra lockers in a private area for students to store their valuables and clothes.
    • Strategy 3: Provide access to showers and washing machines.
    • Strategy 4: Establish a community resource room where students and families have access to food, clothing, and hygiene supplies (e.g., small bottles of shampoo and conditioner, toothbrushes, toothpaste, tampons and sanitary napkins, shaving supplies, etc.).
    • Strategy 5: Partner with community-based organizations to provide on-site childcare, health care, behavioral health services, or similar resources for students and families.
    • Strategy 6: Collect donated gift cards from major retailers in the community (e.g., Walmart, Target, Safeway, Grocery Outlet, etc.) for students and families.
    • Strategy 7: Provide all required school supplies for students experiencing homelessness.
  2. Connect students and families to external organizations that can provide basic needs material items outside of schools, especially providers that are open before/after school. Basic needs material items can include, but are not limited to, food, hygiene products, blankets, school supplies, computers, gas cards, gift cards, and baby products. (PE)
  3. Schools or community providers should give funds to students and families that can be used for basic needs. (PE, LE)
    • Strategy 1: Allow schools to access funds for emergencies.


Life Skills for Youth/Young Adults

Goal 1:

Students and families experiencing homelessness, including unaccompanied youth, have access to a variety of training opportunities related to acquiring life skills.

  1. Provide a variety of life skills opportunities, such as employment readiness and driver education classes, technology training, language courses, and financial literacy and management. (PE, LE)

Sources Key

Professional Expertise
Lived Expertise
Mixed-methods Research
Sources include:
Building Changes/Schoolhouse Washington staff; school and district staff interviewed through Schoolhouse Washington-funded projects and the Students of Color project
Students and families of color experiencing homelessness interviewed through the Students of Color project
Beating the Odds quantitative and qualitative analysis showing association between a practice and better-than-predicted outcomes