How can teachers support children facing homelessness?


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Youth homelessness charity, Centrepoint, estimates that 135,800 young people were homeless or at risk of homelessness last year in the UK. That’s 1 in every 52.

Based on those shocking figures, it’s hardly surprising that Shelter found half of state school teachers in England are working with children who are homeless.

Homelessness comes in many different forms. Even though many people facing homelessness do sleep rough, they could also be living in temporary housing, sofa surfing, or otherwise not having a safe place to call home

Any of these living situations can have a huge impact on children’s social lives, emotional wellbeing, self esteem and education. In this week’s blog, we’ll be exploring some of the ways that homelessness can affect children in schools, and offering some advice for how teachers can support their pupils.

Create stability

One of the major impacts of homelessness, especially for children, is a disruption of routines. Being evicted or having to move into emergency accommodation – possibly far from who and what they know – can mean that ‘normal’ routines like regular meals and seeing friends and family can go out the window. 

Even the routine of coming to school at all can be disrupted; 86% of teachers who have worked with children facing homelessness said that housing issues are causing pupils to miss school.

When children are in school, you can make a difference by creating a stable, predictable environment. This could be as simple as really focussing on your morning routine (e.g. greeting pupils at the door, doing the register), and ensuring that it happens in the same way every day. Building stability in the classroom can help your pupils benefit from that sense of security, familiarity and control they might be missing at home. 

Make school a safe space

When children are dealing with the challenges of homelessness, it’s common for them to come to school feeling hungry and tired. They might struggle sleeping in cramped or unfamiliar spaces, have to get up a lot earlier to get to school from further away, or go without meals.

With all of this going on, it’s important to make school a safe, understanding place for children dealing with homelessness. Meet them where they are each day and make sure they feel seen and heard.

Avoid sanctions for things like losing focus due to tiredness/hunger, or missing homework, which might be hard to complete in cramped or noisy living spaces. Instead, offer support like a lunchtime or after-school homework club to give children the time, space and resources they need to learn. 

Build their confidence 

Children living in uncertain or unsafe housing situations can feel isolated and worried about facing stigma from their peers. No wonder 91% of teachers working with children who are homeless told Shelter that living situations were negatively impacting children’s mental health

There are things you can do to support children in order to boost their confidence and self esteem. Think about giving them jobs like handing out worksheets or being a ‘buddy’ for a younger pupil. This will help give them a sense of much-needed responsibility and empowerment

Looking for more?

If you want to do more to support families facing homelessness in your community, we’d love you to consider raising money for Simon on the Streets. You can donate directly or organise some exciting fundraising initiatives for your school to help us provide long-term support for people who are homeless.

In addition, we’re always happy to come and pay your school a visit, to inform and educate your pupils about the work we do. 

Further reading:

  1. Homelessness and motherhood.
  2. The very real impact of youth homelessness.
  3. How do children benefit from learning about charities.
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