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How Homelessness Affects Texas Kids

Lara Solt
KERA News Special Contributor

About 111,000 kids in Texas are considered homeless. They stay in shelters, couch-surf with friends or family, or even live on the street.

KERA News is starting a new American Graduate series next week calledHomeless in High School.

In this week’s Friday Conversation, Barbara James with the Texas Homeless Education Office (THEO) explains the extent of the problem.

The state identifies four types of homelessness:

  • Kids who are on the streets, living in cars, tents, under bridges.
  • Kids who are living in hotels or motels. “These of course are not the luxury hotels but the lower income type of motels.
  • Kids who are living in shelters
  • Kids living in “doubled up” situations, where they’re living with friends or family.

It can be difficult to help homeless students because of the reluctance to admit that there’s a problem. James says her office encourages school districts to use code names or acronyms for homeless students to soften the stigma.
“We just don’t refer to a child as being homeless but rather, ‘in a situation.’ That makes it seem much more temporary, and also it doesn’t seem so pejorative toward the child,” she says.

Teaching educators about the signs of homelessness has helped students get out of a bad situation. James recalls an incident in a San Antonio district where a teacher had noticed a student missing school often and wearing the same clothes. It was later discovered that the student was among 17 people sharing a two-bedroom apartment, a situation known as “doubling up.”

“That’s a situation where an astute teacher, having gone to a class on homelessness, was able to make an impact on 17 people,” she says.

Homelessness isn’t limited to urban communities. James says rural areas have high poverty, so her office comes across many situations where families are living in substandard housing.

On the flip side, THEO encounters suburban homeless situations as well, usually because a parent has lost a job and is overextended financially.

“Homelessness knows no boundaries,” says James. “It really can happen to anyone.”

Barbara James is the director of the Texas Homeless Education Office in Austin. The KERA American Graduate series Homeless in High School begins May 26. Explore the series here.

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.