As the 2015-2016 school year starts, it is a sobering fact that many students in the Austin Independent School District will not have an address they can call their own home, according to data obtained by HousingWorks Austin from AISD’s Project HELP (Homeless Education and Learning Program). That data shows the number of students classified as “homeless” rose during the last school year to 2,642.
AISD officials attribute this trend primarily to a lack of affordable housing options for low-income families in Austin. Also, many Austin landlords have been increasingly reluctant to approve renters who are using Section 8 vouchers, according to a study from the Austin Tenants’ Council. AISD also points to a scarcity of treatment options in Austin for children suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues. These students frequently become alienated from their families.
Click below to watch a video about the rise in homeless students in Austin ISD. It includes a Keep Austin Affordable success story about a single mother and her son who overcame homelessness thanks to the Austin nonprofit Saint Louise House.
According to Project HELP, the rise in homeless students does affect education in AISD. District officials cite a study by the Texas Homeless Education Office that found that homeless children often exhibit panic attacks, chronic hunger, sleep deprivation, poor hygiene and unmet medical and/or psychological needs. Project HELP partners with community-based organizations to provide temporary housing, school supplies, food and other necessities for homeless students and their families.
“Project HELP is training school registrars to be better detectives in determining which kids might be homeless and how to do that in a non-embarrassing way so that they can get with these kids and say, I think you need these services, come in and talk with us about it,” said AISD board member Ann Teich. “We, being the city, the county, the school district and concerned citizens, need to be working toward addressing policies that will provide a safety net for these kids and their families.”