As temperatures began to dip this fall, Allen Blackwell III says he and his colleagues at Baltimore City Public Schools kept watch on weather reports hoping to see it hit 32 degrees. That would herald the opening of winter shelters where homeless students and their families could be housed.

“We were in the support area before. Now we’re dealing with survival,” says Blackwell, the district’s homeless and foster care liaison who oversees homeless services at 120 schools and 15 shelters as well as partnerships with local agencies.

For students experiencing homelessness, schools are a lifeline for their entire families. Blackwell’s department has continued to provide food, clothing and transportation support despite being largely cut off from in-person contact with students since March.

But that system only works if homelessness liaisons know where these students are. The COVID-19 pandemic made that exponentially harder when it forced districts to go virtual in the spring and kept many remote throughout the fall.

“School was really the only basic provider of services for these families, and that is even more so now even during school closures,” says Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection. The organization aims to help students overcome homelessness through education, policy advocacy and practical support to educators. “I think that’s a really important part of this: There really isn’t another system out there that’s meeting their needs. It’s school.”

Her organization identified a troubling trend after the COVID-19 pandemic hit: school homeless liaisons reported a whopping 28 percent drop in enrollment of students who identified as homeless.

SchoolHouse Connection partnered with the Poverty Solutions initiative at the University of Michigan to conduct a survey of more than 1,400 liaisons on COVID-19’s impact on homeless students liaisons and released a report on their findings in November.

Read the full article about schools are for the homeless by Nadia Tamez-Robledo at EdSurge.