How surprising is it that over half of the homeless counted
in the Northwest Arkansas 2015 point-in-time homeless census (PIT) are K-12
students? Over 1,200 students are without a place they can call their own on
any given night throughout the year.
Every other year we do a homeless census in Washington and
Benton Counties. The primary objective of that census is to get an accurate
count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless adults in the region. This count
provides local homeless service providers, government officials, and other
non-profits a snapshot of their clientele. However, since 2007, the Community
and Family Institute (CFI) has been including in that count, all K-12 students
who are designated as homeless by area school homeless coordinators. This count
is important to local school districts that depend on federal funds to assist
these students with emergency needs like food, clothing, and case management.  
Homelessness K-12 in Northwest Arkansas @bigpittstop #NWArkCares
There is much to be concerned about in this graphic. The
rising K-12 homelessness in the last eight years, the growing problem in one of
our wealthiest school districts, and the lack of targeted programming to stem
the tide.
Perhaps what is more troubling about the data is that we
know very little about this population. We do know that nearly 90 percent of
those reported homeless in the K-12 systems across Washington and Benton
Counties are doubling-up with friends and relatives. They are not on the
streets, very few are in shelters, and the majority is accompanied by at least
one adult.
Given this assessment, you might be tempted to say something
like, “at least they have a place to stay.”
While certainly it is important to their overall well-being to at least have a
place to live, staying with their grandparents or aunt and cousins, or even
living at a family’s friends house or apartment is nothing to get excited about
and in fact, can be, in many cases, a risky environment. Research consistently
shows that unstable housing can be a contributor to physical and mental health
risks, academic problems, food insecurity, and other markers for poor outcomes
that disrupt student success and achievement.

So what can I do?

  • Start a social media conversation among your NWA
    friends and followers…start posting on Facebook and Twitter about this issue. 
  • Create momentum for change. Get your
    congregations, non-profit partners, and local businesses talking about student
    needs and looking for support. 
  • Organize neighborhood food drives and start
    stocking the shelves of your local school food pantries. 
  • Contact your local schools, talk to the homeless
    coordinator, and find out what their needs are: food, school supplies,
    clothing, etc.

School Pantries are an option for the Rising Homeless K-12 Population in NWA @bigpittstop #NWArkCares
We know that schools are buried in the job of educating
their students and developing homeless prevention or intervention programs are
well outside their scope and their general wheelhouse of what they can do. Many
homeless coordinators are not full-time appointments and often teachers are
selected to fill the role on an annual basis. 
Some schools are doing the best they can do to help with needs but
others are either ill equipped or unprepared to meet the demands of this
high-risk student population.
Despite this somewhat grim picture, there is plenty of
opportunity to act!
Kevin Fitzpatrick, PhD is a professor of sociology and the
Jones Chair in Community and the Director of the Community and Family Institute
at the University of Arkansas. To find out more about what Dr. Fitzpatrick and
the CFI are doing in this region visit