Student Homelessness & COVID-19
With the ongoing public health emergency, COVID-19, Texas Appleseed is working to ensure that we are doing all we can for young people experiencing homelessness. As the closure of schools and businesses continues, many young people are without a place to go or consistent income. To identify what issues young people are facing and potential solutions, Texas Appleseed is regularly convening with a group of Central Texas service providers, policymakers, and national advocates to check in as the pandemic continues.
Drop-in centers and transitional housing services are continuing with new safety and hygiene measures to contain the spread of the virus. In San Antonio, there is a higher influx of young people; providers are taking their temperature before bringing kids through their doors, immediately washing their clothing, and are preparing a quarantine building for future use for when they have a positive case. One Austin provider is providing all counseling sessions virtually and still operating daily services where young people can get access to meals, water, hand washing, and information about resources and counseling; they can enter the building one at a time to maintain social distancing. An important part of the providers’ jobs is educating young people about how to keep themselves safe.
As the virus spreads, these providers will need support as their staff must quarantine, the number of young people in need steadily increases, they are required to space out and distance beds, and as they continue to adapt to a new model where they must limit person-to-person contact by doing as much as possible virtually. This situation will likely require creative solutions, perhaps with moving young people into underutilized hotels. With schools closed, it will also be challenging for homeless liaisons to identify students as they become homeless and to connect them with resources. And with shelter in place, some providers are already delivering meals while avoiding contact because young people cannot access transportation. As the situation evolves, we are working to identify creative solutions to bolster young people experiencing homelessness.
Below are some important recommendations to keep in mind:
- Young people must be educated about the real risks to them and their loved ones from COVID-19; providers are on the front lines of educating them and creating systems to help them while also keeping young people and staff safe.
- It is critical that homeless youth providers and homeless liaisons are considered essential staff and able to continue working.
- Ensuring access to education is required under McKinney-Vento for students experiencing homelessness and with COVID-19, that likely means ensuring students have access to necessary technology to continue their education virtually.
- To address the technology gap, schools should create Wifi access points so families can use the Internet when nearby. For example, Austin ISD has recently equipped a fleet of buses with Wifi access around the district to help bridge the connectivity gap that many students are facing.
- As testing for COVID-19 becomes more prevalent, it is important to test homeless young people and providers so that young people can be rehoused and can find respite in shelters.
- With the loss of jobs, more young people are already experiencing food scarcity; shelters and drop-in centers will need more resources as this crisis continues.