The number of homeless students has doubled in the last decade, reaching 1.3 million as of the 2013–14 school year, according to the National Center for Homeless Education. This growing but often invisible group of students presents special challenges to educators — but also opportunities to make a real difference.

Awareness Is the First Step

Homeless students of all ages are likely to try to hide their living situation from friends and adults, so it can be challenging to figure out if any of your students are homeless. You’ll need to look out for clues such as students saving food from lunch, falling asleep in class, wearing clothing that isn’t clean or missing a lot of school or assignments. You may also overhear other students discussing a homeless student’s living situation.

If you think a student is homeless, speak to them privately about their living situation. Let them know about the services available to help them succeed. Connect them with the district homeless liaison, and stress that the services are free and confidential.

Design Services to Support Homeless Education

Many students who are homeless have limited access to the school supplies and technology tools they need to succeed. Set up a school supply area homeless students can access when they need paper, pens or other supplies. Also consider opening your computer lab for use during lunches, breaks and after school so students who don’t have computers or internet access at home can do their homework there. You can coordinate with the local library, offering transportation to the library after school closes, if needed.

If you’re providing students with laptops, create a system to let students leave their computers in a safe location if they’re not comfortable taking them home. A student in a shelter could be putting themselves at risk for theft or abuse if they take a device off of school premises. Let students know about affordable internet access options — a mobile phone allows students to complete internet research off-site if they can’t take a larger device with them.

Coordinate With Other Services

Homelessness doesn’t just hurt kids during the school day, and it can’t be solved by schools alone. Educators can work with other agencies to provide a complete set of solutions. For example, school-provided breakfasts and lunches might be the only food source for a homeless student. If your district or community offers these options outside of school, post information about these meal options. When a local doctor or dentist offers free services, share that information so that students who don’t have access to healthcare or dental services can take advantage of it.

Educating homeless students can be challenging, but teachers can be critical to identifying students who are homeless and connecting them with support that will improve their chances to succeed in school. Find out more and read the full report on the National Center for Homeless Education’s website.

Chromebooks offer affordability and efficiency, and can be an effective way to equip all your students with the technology they need to get ahead. Learn more about the benefits here.