All homeless Americans are at heightened risk of contracting the virus and often have weakened immune systems, with many unable to follow social distancing protocols or to self-quarantine. But homeless youth without parental supervision are unable to consent to receive medical care in many states, have limited access to shelters and are less likely to seek help, advocates said.

“Our unaccompanied homeless youth really try and avoid sharing” information about their situations, said Casey Gordon, who manages homeless student outreach efforts at the Kent Intermediate School District in Grand Rapids. “They are probably our most invisible population.”

The problem is likely to get worse. As the U.S. economy tumbles and an economic recession becomes all but inevitable, advocates for homeless youth predict a surge in students without stable housing.

To prevent further harm, advocates say federal and local officials must do more — and quickly — to help one of America’s most vulnerable student populations. As lawmakers debate a $2 trillion emergency stimulus package, they haven’t adequately addressed the needs of homeless students, said Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a nonprofit focused on overcoming homelessness through education.

Homeless youth “talk about school as home, they talk about school as an escape, they talk about school as family — and that’s now gone,” Duffield said. Though policies focused on health care, housing and child care are important, she’s urging lawmakers to invest more in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which helps homeless youth attend and succeed in school. In the absence of bold action, Duffield’s prediction is dire:

“We’re going to lose them,” she said. “We’re going to lose them academically. We may lose them in terms of the violence and the safety issues. There’s literally no other federal program that has a focus like a laser on the experiences of these children and youth, education and beyond.”

Read the full article about protecting homeless students during the coronavirus pandemic by Mark Keierleber at The 74.