Sybil Low by Sybil Low

Homeless students constantly face struggles and systemic issues with one of them being chronic absenteeism in schools. A recent article from EdSurge highlights that 37% of homeless students are chronically absent, and the issue becomes more widespread and has especially worsened during the pandemic.

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Key Takeaways:

  • Homeless students face a unique set of challenges leading to chronic absenteeism, with up to 37% affected nationally and even higher in some districts.
  • The pandemic has exacerbated these issues, making the connection more difficult specifically for those without access to technology.
  • Some organizations, like Teaching Matters in New York, have found success in creating an “attendance culture” where school becomes an engaging and important part of the child’s life.

Lisa Mentesana, executive director of the Beaverton Resource Center, illustrates how poverty affects families, leading to higher rates of addiction, alcoholism, and domestic violence. Homeless families may disintegrate, leading to youth either leaving or being asked to leave. Mentesana states,

“You see a higher rate of addiction, alcoholism, domestic violence, and then you see youth escaping that or leaving it or themselves, [or] their families asking them to leave.”

Challenges During the Pandemic

During the pandemic, connecting with homeless students became more complex. Public libraries, a common connection point, closed, and increased transience led to students simply going missing.

Students in shelters or public housing faced barriers to remote learning due to insufficient internet access or quiet spaces. Mentesana encapsulates this struggle, saying that in some regions, K-12 students were just “going missing.”

Prevention and Innovative Solutions

Lynette Guastaferro, CEO of Teaching Matters, emphasizes the importance of an “attendance culture” where school feels fun and important. This approach considers students’ feelings and focuses on engagement. Guastaferro argues that chronic absenteeism can signify disconnection at school and that school culture should be welcoming.

To support intervention, the system relies heavily on attendance data, allowing early engagement with students at risk of chronic absenteeism. Manny Algarin, a senior educational consultant for Teaching Matters, emphasizes that for their intervention, the data is “non-negotiable.”

Creative Incentives

One unique approach involved hosting pizza parties for chronically absent students living in shelters. By giving them control over the guest list, the students were engaged socially, breaking their isolation. Guastaferro credits this method for turning attendance numbers around, stating

“You’re the king of the pizza party, and you get to decide who’s coming. And that sort of dynamic got kids excited to come.”


The alarming rates of homeless students’ chronic absence at schools present a significant challenge. What’s clear is that addressing this issue requires a complex and compassionate approach. Only by nderstanding the unique struggles and needs of each student it will be possible to come up with an intervention strategy that works.


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