Jennifer Erb-Downward is a senior research associate at U-M's Poverty Solutions who studies child and family homelessness. Her research explores the connections between student homelessness and school discipline rates, academic proficiency, graduation and dropout rates, chronic absenteeism, receipt of public assistance, and placement in the foster care system.
"As the school year starts, it is critical that districts take steps to ensure that students who have experienced homelessness are not left behind in the push for things to 'return to normal,'' she said. "This has to start with robust identification and outreach. The longer a student who is homeless goes unidentified by their school, the more challenges that child faces and the more likely it becomes for them to struggle academically and socially at school.
"The stakes are particularly high this year as the pandemic authorized universal free lunch for all students ends in Michigan. Students experiencing homelessness are all eligible for free lunch, but families may not know to apply and if students experiencing homelessness are not identified this very basic need for food could go unmet."