In the past decade, the number of homeless students has doubled in the US and yet they remain largely unseen. According to the National Center For Homeless Education, in 2014 around 1.3 million American students had no desk to do their homework on, no showers to clean up in, and no washers or dryers to clean the clothing they wore to school.
"One public high school in Salt Lake City, Utah, is working to change that.
Last month, East High School installed laundry machines and showers for the 50 to 100 students who do not have stable housing situations. The new appliances are at their disposal “before, during, or after school.”
"It's to feel like they fit in, to feel like they are part of something, and they don't stand out," East High School principal Greg Maughan told FOX13 TV station. "And the more likely they are to attend, the more likely they are to succeed in class, to graduate and to move on to college and a career."
A 2016 report from the Civil Enterprises and Hart Research Associates concluded that around 60% of formerly homeless students said it was “hard to stay in school while they were homeless.” For many, the stigma of homelessness makes them reluctant to talk about their living conditions with peers or staff.
"A lot of them don't have them [showers and laundry machines] in their own homes, and a lot of them are afraid to ask like their friends or someone else," East High senior, Emily Beatse, told the station.
She had often seen these students hanging around the theater department, which had its own washer and dryer for costumes.
It’s this fear of embarrassment that keeps students who are experiencing homelessness from accessing the correct support systems, which makes them much more likely to fall off track and eventually drop out of school, the report stated.
Homelessness can bring with it a slew of other negative impacts on a young person’s life, including dramatic drawbacks in early development and early entry into the juvenile justice system.
And yet, until 2016 states and schools were not held accountable for tracking the graduation rates of homeless students. As a result, relatively few people are aware of the scope of the issue, and school staffs remain untrained on how to identify or help homeless students.
“Although student homelessness is a challenging problem, we believe it is a solvable one,” the report concluded.
Schools, these researchers believe, can be looked at as hubs for connecting students to housing, tutoring, mentoring, mental health and other services.
But transforming these schools into safe havens starts at a community level.
“A lot of credit goes to the administration and to the community who said, ‘This is something we need, let’s get it started,” said Carol Lear, a volunteer at Chapman-Richards Cares, the local non-profit group that provided the washing machines.
Without donations from community members, these washrooms would not have been possible.