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Study Ties Student Homelessness To Poor Health, Academic Performance

Lara Solt
KERA News special contributor
A hallway at The Samaritan Inn in McKinney, a homeless shelter in Collin County. Photo from KERA's American Graduate series: "<a href="">Homeless In High School</a>."

Texas ranks third in the country for the highest number of homeless students in public schools, and research suggests these kids fall behind academically because they’re prone to more health problems.

The study from the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness ties homelessness and health to school performance. For example, in districts with more homeless kids than average, about one-third of third graders can read proficiently. In districts with a below-average homeless rate, more kids can read – almost half of those measured.

Jeanne Stamp is the project director for the Texas Homeless Education Office in Austin. While her department focuses on academics, she works with health agencies because she agrees with the new study: Performance suffers when health does.

“For us, those issues come into play because, obviously, children that have those issues that go untreated without access to care aren’t very likely to be attending school very regularly or being successful in school,” Stamp says.

The report cites 2014 data — the latest available — showing 111,000 homeless students in Texas. Dallas has more than 3,000 of them — one of five Texas cities with that many. Federal funding, which can cover some student health needs, fell that year even as the homeless population rose.

“Many of the school districts have health advisory committees that they address these kind of issues for highly mobile kids, kids in poverty, kids who are economically disadvantaged and have some of these issues without proper access to either health or mental health care,” Stamp says.

The report says homeless high school students have worse health outcomes than others, disproportionately face the most extreme health risks, and are also more likely to take advantage of school-based clinics.

The study also suggests more homeless students are depressed and arrive to school hungry than those who aren’t.