Experiencing homelessness is not always a direct cause of a student’s absenteeism. Nonetheless, housing instability does contribute to a student’s inability to attend class regularly. Among the reasons why students experiencing homelessness may miss school are long or unpredictable commutes, family caretaking responsibilities, a lack of sleep due to volatile housing arrangements, and chronic physical and mental health issues such as asthma or depression.
Furthermore, student absenteeism is often not isolated to a single school year, but part of a recurring pattern of school instability. For example, among homeless students living in shelter, approximately half of those who missed 40 or more days of school during the 2016–17 school year had also done so the previous year.
Students living in shelters (i.e. Tier II facilities, cluster site apartments, or hotels) are more likely to miss school compared to homeless students living “doubled-up,” who are staying in temporary living situations with another household. Over 20% of students in shelter missed 40 or more days of class time, compared to just 7% of homeless students living doubled up.
Efforts to monitor and support students’ attendance can vary depending on the type of shelter families are placed in. Sixty percent of homeless families live in Tier II shelters; these facilities are regularly assigned DOE staff who check daily attendance and meet with parents and facility staff to address barriers to impeding regular school attendance. The 40% of homeless families that live in cluster-site apartments and hotel/motels do not often have these resources as readily available.
Absenteeism rates tend to increase in higher grade levels as these students are often responsible for getting themselves to school. Among students living in shelter, 40% of ninth graders missed 40 or more days of school. Furthermore, for these older students a school’s environment may exacerbate absenteeism: over one in four New York City high school students experiencing homelessness (26%) reported being bullied at school, and 22% reported skipping school because they felt unsafe.
Read the full article about homeless students' absenteeism at the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness.