Another school year has arrived! A new year is a huge milestone for youth in all of our programs, but especially for homeless youth. Many young people facing homelessness are forced to make a life-altering adjustment and drop out of high school so they can provide for themselves. Homeless high school students are twice as likely to repeat a grade, be expelled, get suspended, or drop out of school as their housed peers (College and Career Readiness Center, American Institutes for Research).
Second Story steps in so that young people experiencing homelessness don’t have to drop out of school just to graduate. We’re dedicated to supporting them so that they have the opportunities they deserve. There’s much you can do, too. Here are six ways you can help this school year:
1. Come to an Open Door.
It’s important to begin by understanding the issue. Second Story hosts tours of our Emergency Shelter for Teenagers on the the second Tuesday of every month. You’ll hear stories about our young people, stats about the issues, and what we’re doing to help.
2. Learn the signs of youth homelessness.
Many young people have told us that they were homeless for months without anyone noticing. Homelessness can be easy to hide, but there are plenty of things to be looking out for. Poor hygiene, habitually falling asleep in class, and hesitancy to leave school grounds are all potential indicators of homelessness. The National Center for Homeless Education has a great list to reference.
3. Become familiar with school resources.
A lot of young people become connected to Second Story through their school social worker. Social workers are often the first to identify issues and provide help. There’s also one homeless liaison per county to help support homeless students. In 2017, there were over 1,000 unaccompanied homeless youth in Fairfax County and just one homeless liaison. This support is vital, but clearly spread thin compared to the level of need, so educating yourself and looking to get involved with community resources (like Second Story) is impactful.
4. If you have kids, be aware of who they’re spending time with.
Homeless young people are often reluctant to go home. Formerly homeless kids tell us they were always hoping to be at a friend’s place around dinner time and craved sleepovers. Is one of your child’s friends always aching to stay for dinner? Are they showing other signs of homelessness? You might be getting a closer look into your kids’ friends lives than even their teachers — it helps to pay attention!
5. Know the resources in your neighborhood.
Do you know what help is out there for homeless young people? Your first call can be to Second Story’s hotline, 1-800-SAY-TEEN. There are other resources, too. For example, The Committee for Helping Others meets immediate needs for people in Vienna, Oakton, Dunn Loring, and Merrifield, and Coordinated Services, part of Fairfax County, connects Fairfax County residents to services related to their specific need. Familiarize yourself with other organizations in your area that work to fight homelessness.
6. Donate in-kind donations or give to Second Story.
There are plenty of ways to get actively involved with Second Story as we serve homeless youth. You can be as an ambassador and help spread the word, volunteer, or help sustain our work through a donation. Every little bit really helps.