The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives in unimaginable ways, and education is no exception. Fourteen million college students have been impacted by COVID-19, with many losing access to essential resources, educational opportunities, and housing. Youth with previous experiences of homelessness have long faced significant and unique barriers to pursuing postsecondary education, but their challenges have been further amplified in the wake of the pandemic.

On July 14, 2020, we connected virtually with five youth: four SchoolHouse Connection Young Leaders and a Youth Advisor for National Network for Youth. We listened as they reflected on their childhood experiences of homelessness and shared their experiences and challenges navigating college and homelessness in the wake of COVID-19. The briefing was the first of three virtual Congressional briefings on family and youth homelessness co-hosted by SchoolHouse Connection, the National Network for Youth, Family Promise, and First Focus Campaign for Children.

The youth panel discussion was moderated by SHC’s Director of Youth Leadership and Scholarship, Jordyn Roark. U.S. Representatives John Yarmuth (D-KY) and Don Bacon (R-NE), who are co-sponsors of the Emergency Family Stabilization Act, H.R. 7950, joined as special guests. The highlights from the hearing are summarized below.

Panelists, can you tell us a little about yourselves?
Christine: Hello, everyone. My name is Christine. I’m 19 years old. I am a rising junior studying communication at Stanford University and right now I’m interning at both a media-for-good company called Golden Hours Production and at my university’s career center for Diversity, Catalyst, that’s me.

Han: My name is Han and I am a rising junior at Weber State University studying archeology and environmental studies. Presently, I’m working with the National Network for Youth as a youth advisory member, along with working at a local call center.

Anthony: Hello, my name is Anthony and I’m 19 years old. I’m actually a former foster youth. I currently attend the University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA. I just finished my first year, and I am currently studying sociology. I’m definitely interested in getting into the sports management field once school ends. That’s just a little bit about myself.

Yesenia: Hi, my name is Yesenia. I’m 18 years old, and in the fall, I’m going to attend Heritage University on a full-ride scholarship. I work at Swan Vocational Enterprises. It’s a vocational training program for native youth on the Yakima Reservation.

Christian: Hi, I’m Christian Alexander, and I’m a Sophomore attending Washington University as a Danforth Scholar, specifically majoring in Mechanical Engineering, and minoring in Writing. As of right now, I’m interning in Children’s Television Production through the Television Academy Foundation.

Can you share a little bit about your experiences of homelessness prior to COVID right?
Christine: My experience has been cyclic. I’ve moved 18 times in 19 years, transitioning between housing rentals, shelters, and motels. The period of homelessness that is the most distinct in my mind, I’d say, is when I slept in a storage unit for five days the summer before my junior year of high school. What happened was my family was evicted from a motel, because we were short on cash. My mom was working as a nurse, but her next paycheck wouldn’t come for another five days. And the owners weren’t going to wait. So we reached out to shelters. We were turned away. And we were renting a storage unit where we kept our non carry-on items. Having nowhere else to go, we decided to sleep in it. And while my mom would leave for work at, like 6AM, my sisters and I would walk with her to the train station, and then walk to the public library to wait for it to open. We had $12 to ration over the span of those days, so we sustained on, like, dollar hot dogs at 7/11, and hot fried chips. And we relied on the public library to wash ourselves, change our clothes, and work on our summer assignments, because the grind does not stop. And then at the end of the day, we would meet our mom at closing. And we would go to the unit and do the same thing again the next day. And then the next four days after that, we survived, eventually getting into a hotel, But the stress didn’t go away. I think the hard part about constantly moving from place to place is never knowing when the rug is going to be pulled out from beneath you. Maybe that last paycheck isn’t going to be enough, and you’ll find yourself free falling without a safety net, scrambling to be in a good position to stabilize yourself for what comes next. So, that’s just a little bit about what I went through.

“I think the hard part about constantly moving from place to place is never knowing when the rug is going to be pulled out from beneath you. Maybe that last paycheck isn’t going to be enough, and you’ll find yourself free falling without a safety net, scrambling to be in a good position to stabilize yourself for what comes next.”


Han: My homelessness journey started almost exactly three years ago. I grew up in an extremely abusive situation with a single mother, who had unmedicated mental illnesses. When I was in seventh grade, I first reported my abuse to the proper authorities at the Department of Child Welfare. And because I was expected to have good grades, and I did have good grades, the social worker who was assigned to my case laughed at me and said that “children with straight A’s aren’t abused.” After that, I realized that there wasn’t really a government agency that could help me. So, fast forward a few years to the summer before my senior year of high school, I was at a point in my life where I thought my mother was going to kill me, or I was going to kill myself. She had been waving knives around at me, and threatening me, and completely eliminating my self-esteem. I didn’t have much hope. I knew that I didn’t want to die though, so I packed the bag, and I ran away. By sheer chance, I had heard about our youth shelter in the community that opened only a couple of years before that, and I was able to go to that shelter and stay there for the duration of my senior year of high school. Some of the challenges that came during the time, were, you know, getting to school by myself. There wasn’t really like shelter resources, and then being fully, responsible for myself without any familial support. Stuff like that.

Han describes her challenges while staying at a shelter.

Anthony: My time being homeless was definitely really tough. As I said before, I’m a former foster youth, due to physical abuse from my dad, which was very unfortunate. I aged out of the system at 14 or 15, when my great grandmother, and great aunt, actually took guardianship of me, which I was very grateful for, so I was used to not really having a consistent, stable home throughout my life. So, fortunately, I was able to move in with them and stay with them for a while. And eventually, I returned back to my dad, who was actually working a custodian job at San Diego State, which definitely wasn’t enough to live in San Diego. Even in terms of Section 8 AND living in affordable housing. So unfortunately, about 3 or 4 years ago, we were evicted from our apartment, having to go from hotel to hotel, to sometimes even having to stay in the van, which was very tough. During this time, I was also with my brother, which was probably the most standout moment through it all, because me and my brother actually have a really strong bond.

Yesenia: I lived with my step dad and my mother for all my life and with my five siblings, I’m like a middle child. One summer, I think it was like my seventh grade, my step-dad said that he didn’t want to work anymore. He just wanted to fish on the river, because that’s what he loved to do. So we just packed up, and we moved. We had two tents. One big one for me and my five siblings, and one for my mom and dad, and we ended up losing our house because of it. So, we ended up just having to live in those two tents down, in this camp area, by the river. We had a communal bathroom and we practically just worked to live. My youngest sibling was 8. And you know, we were just out fishing all day, just trying to have dinner and there was a lot of just like staying with family and just trying to ‘mooch’ off of other people because we couldn’t do it ourselves.

Christian: I was homeless for a good portion of 2017, and this stemmed from years of my great uncle’s mismanagement of the family home, resulting in it being sold without our notification, and the sheriff evicting my grandmother and I. For the next three months, we either stayed in a motel that was paid for by Los Angeles County for some time, or with my uncle in the new home he lived in with other friends of his, often cycling between the two in every few weeks. The home we lived in with his uncle had 4 other people and two dogs living within it, and I often slept on couches or air mattresses, as there often wasn’t enough space in the house. The motel consistently reeked of cigarettes, and at night, it was oftentimes hard to concentrate on a homework assignment given the noises that came from rooms right next door to mine. After that, my grandmother and I moved into a transitional home and lived there with as few as one other family, or as many as three other families, at any given point over the next 5 months, while we stayed there. All of this was during my sophomore and junior years of high school, and I was able to persist during this time by prioritizing academics and my performance in classes so that I could try to guarantee my acceptance into college, which, thankfully, did happen. My high school counselor was incredibly supportive and helpful for me during these trying times, and a lot of my teachers were understanding and supportive whenever I struggled with completing assignments and all.

Would you mind talking a little bit about what it was like staying in a motel and hotel?
Christine: It wasn’t the best situation, primarily because the hotels that we could afford to stay in were often, I guess I don’t want to say sketchy, but not the safest. And that would mean that we were surrounded by a lot of workers, and specifically at the motel I stayed in during my senior year of high school. There are a lot of sex workers, and a lot of, like, panderers or what people call pimps trying to recruit me and my siblings. And then, constantly, dealing with hearing cases of domestic violence, occurring around you, and always being concerned about “OK, do I have a place to eat? Do I have a roof over my head, but is it even safe for me to be here?” And constantly going outside and leaving the room was also a risk, which my family had to do every day just to live our lives.

“When COVID hit, my dorm gave us three days to find housing and not having a secure person I could go to, to find housing, I had to reach out to literally anyone I knew, in order to try and find housing. And thankfully, I was able to find someone, but recently, they just asked me to find somewhere else to say. And so I had to go through that struggle again.The struggle is not actually ever having anywhere you belong. And not having stable housing to go to and literally one person saying ‘you can’t stay with me’ away from being on the streets again.”


Christine describes what living in a motel was like.

Can anyone speak to your experiences staying with other people temporarily, whether it be during breaks, when your colleges are closed, or prior to college?

Han: So, during my summers and my break, I don’t have that family that I can go and stay with. And so, last summer, I was able to do a conservation corps internship my entire summer, living in the provided housing, which is a tent out in the middle of nowhere. But during other breaks, I have to find people on a whim, and when COVID hit, my dorm gave us three days to find housing and not having a secure person I could go to, to find housing. I had to reach out to literally anyone I knew, in order to try and find housing. And thankfully, I was able to find someone, but recently, they just asked me to find somewhere else to say. And so I had to go through that struggle again. And so, the struggle is not actually ever having anywhere you belong. And not having stable housing to go to, and literally one person saying “you can’t stay with me” away from being on the streets again. And it’s this constant thing, every summer and every holiday, I’ll have to go through, until I have enough savings to have my own place, and have that secure housing.

Christian: I stayed with other people while my grandmother and I lived at my uncle’s house, and also in the transitional home. This environment wasn’t the most adequate for my grandmother and I, as we were essentially living in a full house that wasn’t entirely clean or adequate. Internet access from my laptop wasn’t always consistent and guaranteed, which meant that I used my uncle’s computer whenever he wasn’t using it. The transitional home wasn’t the most stable or secure living situation for my grandmother and I. On a month-to-month basis, some families cycled in and out of the home, many of which were potentially-unstable single-mother families. A refrigerator, kitchen, and two bathrooms were shared between as few as two and as many as four families. There were also a fairly large number of children in the home at any given date and time as well. Early and late evenings on my end were typically spent studying and completing homework assignments, all while finding the quietest area of the home or, when WiFi was intermittent, working downstairs, where the connection was the strongest. Personal privacy and space was nearly nonexistent, but I was able to focus on my academics to make it through. Given how many people were in the house, there would often be tensions. There was even a moment where a child of one of the family used a racial epithet in the presence of my grandmother. Thankfully, the landlord was able to resolve this concern, but this incident could have potentially grown into something worse if she didn’t address the comment.

Can you take a second to imagine, back in those stories that you told us of your K-12 experiences of homelessness: what if COVID-19 happened while you were experiencing homelessness as a K-12 student? What would that experience have been like, and what do you imagine that some of the challenges would have been for you?

Christine: Yeah, for sure, I would have been more vulnerable with a virtual learning environment. Because my main source of my meals came from free lunch programs, and I’d bring food back home to my family. Because the majority of my support networks worked in the high school building, where I went to school. For instance, my Assistant Principal McBeady, she had an office where she would let us, like, ransack the room for tampons, or razors, and she’d bring these home-cooked meals where we can eat there, and sleep. And to be separate from that, those resources would have been nightmarish to say the least. But see, and I kinda touched on this previously, school acted as a partial shield from the violence and abuse I was exposed to where I was staying; even though I was staying in a hotel, and we had a secure roof over our heads, the situation was still scary. The hotels, like I said, were cheap, but also dangerous because I recall coming back from school one day, and the police being outside our door with yellow tape, because there was a sex worker who was assaulted and murdered in the next room. I remember coming home to a SWAT team busting down the door across the room because the people were hoarding firearms. And, like, hearing domestic violence cases happen all the time. And even considering how people interacted with me while I was in those spaces, like, I’m a Black woman, and I present as a Black woman, everyone in my family identifies and presents as a Black woman. And so I don’t have enough digits on my hand to count the amount of times people have come up to me, or crossed that boundary, and created a hostile environment. So with that in mind, I think that I would have been more vulnerable if I wasn’t at school for most of the time. And I can imagine COVID making that even more scary.


“The majority of my support networks work in the high school building, where I went to school…And to be separated from those resources would have been nightmarish to say the least.”


Han: My experience is that living in a shelter, we had 14 beds that were almost always full, and also served as a drop in resource center. So there were constantly people coming in and out of my house. But we had 14 people living there, and only six computers, so if my education had been moved online, it would have been a battle for who got the computer at what time, and it would have been constant chaos. I mean, I even had a hard time doing my homework when I was at the shelter, just because there’s always so much noise and so much happening. And a lot of chaos, so it wouldn’t have been an environment that’s conducive to being able to learn. Even before I was homeless, if I had been back at home during quarantine with my abuser, I don’t know if I would have survived that period. Summers, I was always doing school activities as well, because school was my safe space. And having that safe space completely taken away would not have been a good situation at all.


“And even considering how people interacted with me while I was in those spaces, like, I’m a Black woman, and I present as a Black woman, everyone in my family identifies and presents as a Black woman. And so I don’t have enough digits on my hand to count the amount of times people have come up to me, or crossed that boundary, and created a hostile environment.”


Anthony: Yeah. I definitely agree with everything that all the other panelists say, along with that, I think just going through these unreal experiences already in being homeless and, going through a time that nobody really understands just in general, would be even crazier. In my situation, technology wasn’t really available. So for students who are learning virtually on their laptops, and things like that, I think it would have been nearly impossible for me to get the education I needed, and along with what Christine said, school was definitely kind of a get away from me. Living in a house where physical abuse was very common, spending many hours in that home would be even more worrisome to what could possibly occur. So I think just having the education that we needed, obviously to learn, but also as, as our second home in a way, it would be taken away from us.

Christian describes the challenges of virtual learning due to the lack of access to technology.

Yesenia: Yeah, I agree with what everyone said. When I was living there, I, I don’t know how I would’ve made it either, like with so many siblings and both of my parents that were drug users, and my stepdad was abusive, and there were multiple people in our camp that were sex offenders and I was definitely sex abused and being trapped in that camp. Yeah, I don’t know how me, or any of my siblings would have survived living there that long. We lived off of generators, so we would only have like an hour of electricity per day, so I don’t know how, like we wouldn’t have done online learning, because we couldn’t, we just couldn’t.


“Living in a house where physical abuse was very common, spending many hours in that home, would be even more worrisome to what could possibly occur. So I think just having the education that we needed, obviously to learn, but also as, as our second home in a way, would be taken away from us.”


Christian: To be completely honest, I don’t think I would’ve been able to mentally make it through homelessness if it wasn’t for high school. I devoted almost all of my hope, energy, and effort into school, as it was the one thing I could actually control and guarantee certainty in. Not only that, but a lot of my food came from the free breakfast that my school offered daily. Virtual learning removes the one-to-one connection that comes from interacting with students and teachers daily at school. Internet issues, the instability of my surroundings, lack of human connection, among other COVID-related factors, would’ve greatly reduced the chances of my being able to succeed during K-12.


“To be completely honest, I don’t think I would’ve been able to mentally make it through homelessness if it wasn’t for high school. I devoted almost all of my hope, energy, and effort into school, as it was the one thing I could actually control and guarantee certainty in. Not only that, but a lot of my food came from the free breakfast that my school offered daily.”


Now that you’re in college, we know that COVID-19 has impacted you. So let’s talk about what’s actually happening now. How does the COVID-19 outbreak impact your housing, your education, and your health?

Christine: Yeah, for sure. Again, I was uprooted from my previous learning environment, and I now rely on my house for resources that I received on campus, but they simply don’t exist here. And during the rest of the semester under COVID, I was constantly juggling my school obligations. And the stress of my mom being an essential worker in the only COVID-designated hospital throughout Brooklyn and my sister being immuno-comprised.  I think that definitely impacted me, and how I interacted with my schoolwork, and even my mental health.


“Experiencing housing insecurity with the added stress of there being a global pandemic, and stressing about what it’s going to be like if you have to be on the streets and how you’re going to protect yourself, both physically from other people, but also from the virus. So it has been an absolute downer for my mental health.”


Han: For me, it’s about the same issue, where I was given three days to find housing, which is already a stressful situation, even if you know where you’re going, but having to find somewhere where you don’t have a steady place is an entirely different level of stress. Another factor that played into COVID right now is the CARES Act funding that schools were supposed to distribute. My school sent us an email about our application for the CARES Act funding that was due that day. And that it will be first come first serve. They sent that email and gave us, like, a three-hour window to apply for the funding that I desperately could have benefited from. Then you add experiencing housing insecurity with the added stress of there being a global pandemic and stressing about what it’s going to be like if you have to be on the streets, and how you’re going to protect yourself, both physically from other people, but also from the virus. So it has been an absolute downer for my mental health.

Han describes how COVID-19 increased her stress levels. 


“Attending UCLA for my first year was supposed to be a great experience. Finally getting into my own independence and living on campus in the dorms. Unfortunately, when COVID hit, our housing contract ended. My roommates moved out of the dorm and went back home, so that left me in a situation where I had to kind of figure out where I was gonna go — if I was gonna have the ability to stay on campus or not.”


Anthony: Everything everybody else said is definitely true, especially in my situation, attending UCLA for my first year, which was supposed to be a great experience. Finally getting into my own independence and living on campus in the dorms. Unfortunately, when COVID hit, our housing contract ended. My roommates moved out of the dorm and went back home, so that left me in a situation where I had to kind of figure out where I was gonna go — if I was gonna have the ability to stay on campus or not. And fortunately, I’ve had the support systems on campus and off campus, and my great aunt who is temporarily staying in a 55 and older housing area/community, which unfortunately is definitely temporary. And beyond that, on campus I’ve had a Bruin Guardian Scholars program that is very involved with former foster youth and I’ve found a lot of support systems that are needed for situations just like this. Unfortunately, I truly don’t feel that the homeless population on campus is really supported like the foster youth, and the former foster care kids are supported. And I definitely think it’s a lot harder for them in a situation like this. So, in a way, I’m grateful for being a foster youth in this situation. Because I have been able to find those support systems to offer the necessities in a situation like this.

Yesenia: Last April, my mom passed away. So right after that happened, all six of us kids just spread out. Like, my grandma would be like “one of you can stay with me,” and my family was hand-picking us, and, but luckily, my boss took me in, into her family. So I’m really grateful to have a stable home now that I’ve had for a year now. And I think, now just with COVID, I can’t see any of my siblings, like I can’t talk to anyone, really. I’m just kind of stuck here with this family that I’m living with. I am working gladly, it’s an essential place. But, um, yeah, I don’t know what I would have done if they hadn’t taken me in. I would just be with some random family member, probably still getting abused. So, I’m pretty grateful with our situation right now.


“My education, as well as my motivation to stick with it, have definitely taken hits since the pandemic, due not only to the drop in quality from in-person to online instruction, but also because of the increased mental and spatial energy needed from me to perform at an academic standard that I’d be at during a normal semester, and how my school’s closure closely resembled my own eviction three years ago.”


Christian: My school announced they were closing over spring break, around mid-March, which left me scrambling to buy a plane ticket at the last minute, and I didn’t end up figuring out where I would be staying next semester until mid-August. I had applied through the late-stay form from the university, although my application was, unfortunately, rejected. My education, as well as my motivation to stick with it, have definitely taken hits since the pandemic, due not only to the drop in quality from in-person to online instruction, but also because of the increased mental and spatial energy needed from me to perform at an academic standard that I’d be at during a normal semester, and how my school’s closure closely resembled my own eviction three years ago. My mental health also hasn’t been as well, but I’ve received the support I needed to for it.


“In a way, I don’t think that I would have all this available to me if I wasn’t a foster care youth at some point. And I think that is the matter that definitely needs to be headlined.”


Discuss where you found support as you navigated your experience of homelessness, and what additional support you still need. Also, what would you want people working in policy, or service providers, to know.

Christine: I would say, especially in my first year of college, I found support in SchoolHouse Connection, my on-campus first-generation, low-income community, and my supervisors at the Career Center, and even still my high school assistant principal McBeady. But I couldn’t leverage, or didn’t know how to leverage, resources outside of that. And while now my situation is getting better, I know a lot of families cannot access government aid or support — whether it’s because of red tape confusion, or technicalities. For instance, more often than not programs serving homeless youth use HUD’s definition of homelessness. But that ignores so many children, because people are staying in hotels, or with other people who aren’t considered homeless under HUD. In my case, with my family, I didn’t qualify for any programs or not many programs, and I still don’t qualify for those programs today. In fact, the previous times I filled out the FAFSA, the application asks if the applicant is experiencing homelessness, which I was. So I check yes. Then it asks, “Are you a ward of the state, or an unaccompanied youth?” I’m not, so I check no. And then, like, an error comes across the screen and says, like, “Hey, you made a mistake there, buddy, you said you’re homeless, but then he said no to these two data points.” It doesn’t make sense. And that’s because the application is set up in a way that it deems those combinations of experiences as incompatible with the definition of homeless that it is familiar with. But if you’re living in a motel, or staying with someone, you technically have a roof over your head, but you’re still bouncing around, you’re still vulnerable, and require a lot of support to secure permanent housing. Even while I was sleeping in a storage unit, I didn’t qualify under those standards. So, I think there’s a critical need to increase funding or increased programming for youth who land outside of those definitions..


“If you’re living in a motel, or staying with someone, you technically have a roof over your head, but you’re still bouncing around, you’re still vulnerable, and require a lot of support to secure permanent housing. Even while I was sleeping in a storage unit, I didn’t qualify under those standards. So, I think there’s a critical need to increase funding or increased programming for youth who land outside of those definitions.”


Han: My biggest support, both in high school and in college, when I was in high school, has been the people who are in charge of my scholarship. They’ve been the people who are there and have been able to connect me with the academic resources I need, which has definitely been useful. But I would like there to be a homeless liaison for college students. Especially when it comes to filling out the FAFSA. For peers, it takes them maybe an hour to fill out the FAFSA. For me, it can take anywhere from a week to three weeks, because of all the information I have to gather. I also have an ask for you all to go out into your community and find your local youth homelessness, or foster care provider. And ask them what changes they would like to see. Because while we have a panel here of youth with diverse experiences, there are no interviews with others with varied experiences all over the nation, we need their stories to be heard as well and their asks to be listened to.

Han describes how helpful it would be if there is a homeless liaison specifically for college students.

Anthony: I found support systems on campus through foster care systems that support former foster youth. I’ve found support through scholarships, through people who worked on my foster care case, and family who still live in California. But, in a way, I don’t think that I would have all this available to me if I wasn’t a foster care youth at some point. And I think that is a matter that definitely needs to be headlined. Because in a way, even logging into my UCLA log-in, seeing the front page, you don’t see support systems for those that are homeless, those that are in need of help that attend the school every single day.

Yesenia: I found a lot of help through the McKinney-Vento Act at my high school. It provided clothes, food. It helped when there was paperwork that needed to be signed. I had no idea what I was doing. It pretty much saved me. I probably wouldn’t have finished high school if I didn’t know how to fill out paperwork without an adult. I think schools and staff, just understanding that.

Yesenia describes how the McKinney-Vento Act played a big role in her high school career.

Christian: I’ve found support from my extended family, some of whom I’m living with right now and have been living with since my school’s closure, my academic advisor within the TRIO program, as well as countless others who read my applications and accepted me into colleges, scholarships, and programs. Many teachers and staff in my high school were incredibly supportive and understanding with me as well. No matter what amazing and phenomenal resources, programs, initiatives are out there, no matter how well they’re funded, if a student who needs them doesn’t know about them, and doesn’t have the support needed to apply to them, they’re useless. I’m very fortunate to have had access to an amazing high school counselor, as well as a number of friends and connections, who referred me to SchoolHouse Connection and other relevant resources. But not everyone has someone who is supportive and helps connect them to the opportunities they need to upwardly advance and make it out of their troubling circumstances. I’ve only made it to Washington University because I took advantage of opportunities that came my way, and if I didn’t have them, then I would’ve had no clue how to actually apply to colleges and earn scholarships. Any and all resources need to be collected and made easily accessible and presentable, not only to prospective homeless, foster, and at-risk youth, but also to guidance counselors and community figures who may be able to refer students to programs, and to support them as they apply and stay involved with the program.

Q & A from Congressmen Bacon and Yarmuth

Congressman Bacon: Would it be helpful for you to have a mentor available, so that you can have someone to go to while transitioning out?

Han: I definitely think it would have been helpful for me to have had a mentor. I had a mentor who was able to help me navigate scholarships and that’s why I was able to get a full-ride third party scholarship. But I didn’t have anyone who could help me navigate, you know, healthcare or dental care, or even how to get a library card while being a homeless youth, and those could have been things that would have greatly benefited my experience and my ability to be self dependent.

Anthony: I can give a little insight on my situation. Mr. Bacon, I applaud you for being a foster parent. It’s truly touching to hear that. I think being in the-, going through the foster care system, I can relate to a lot of things that you were pointing out. In my situation, I didn’t necessarily have a mentor, but I did receive a court appointed special advocate, a CASA, in my case, where he was, kinda like a father figure in a way. Not as much of a mentor, to the effect that he was showing me how to really grow into an adult experiencing, and preparing for things like taxes, healthcare, and things like that, but, in a way, he was sort of a mentor.

Christian: Yes, having a dedicated, consistent mentor continues to be one of the most transformative experiences I’ve ever had. I am fortunate to have had a number of mentors through the college application process, and even now as I adjust into college and begin delving into my prospective careers. Someone who is consistent, energetic, genuinely invested in their student, and unafraid to check in on a student would make an incredible mentor in the middle of an uncertain time. It’s worth noting that few of my mentors have actually been official; a lot of them have been teachers and figures who provided the same support as an actual mentor; at least, that’s how I see them.

Congressman Yarmuth: Where does that strength come from? Is there a way to describe it? Do you think that you’re strong?

Han: Sometimes, I think that I’m strong. Sometimes I go back to the fact that it’s just survival. I did what I had to do to survive. I’ve pushed myself so that I can live a long life and be happy and be successful. And thankfully, I have the mental state where I can do that and I have the resources that have helped me get to where I am.

Christian: My strength came from desperation. Whether consciously or unconsciously, I knew I was in a bind and had no control over my immediate circumstances. But I knew that school was something I could control, so it gave me a sense of agency and initiative to excel academically, in whatever I commit to. I’d rather not call it strength; I feel as though me saying that about myself would eventually cause it to get to my head.


“I know that a lot of children have slipped through the cracks by now, they’ve just disappeared. So, reach out to them and ask the families and the youth what they need.”


Congressman Yarmuth: If there’s one thing that would’ve made your life significantly better during this period, what would it have been?

Christine: That’s a hefty one. I think. I’m thinking like, oh, would it be like a bag of money? I don’t think so. I don’t think it would even been, like, a house. I think that. But really, what made a difference, just like I said before, is having like that safety net, like, I think the reason why it was so easy to slip in and out like, of like, housing insecurity was because like one day, my family would have it together, and then the next we’d be back on the street. So, even if it was just, I don’t know, maybe if my family had more people to support them. That’s why I’m very grateful for people like McBeady, when I was hungry, like that night, I didn’t have to spend money on food, because she would bring us a meal, and I wouldn’t have to spend money on an Uber, because she would arrange a bus. So that’s an interesting question. But I would just say, maybe like a safety net.

Christian: Having a consistent mentor when things started. If I had that, then there’s a good chance they could’ve referred my grandmother and I to resources that we didn’t even know about, and could’ve also assisted me during most of 2017.

General Q&A

What would you suggest that school systems and providers can do to best support children and families in this upcoming school year?

Han: I would say reach out to them, and in more than one way, reach out to services that they commonly use. Because I know that a lot of children have slipped through the cracks by now, they’ve just disappeared. So, reach out to them and ask the families and the youth what they need. It’s easy to assume that we know what they need, or what they want, because of what we would need, or what we would want, but we’re not in their situation, and so it’s really about acting and listening.

Han suggested that school systems and providers actively reach out to children and families experiencing homelessness. 

Anthony: Kids and adolescents going into school this next year… I think at this time, it’s most important for the teachers and school staff to really use those connections with the students that they’ve built, that this is the most important time for those kids. That the differences are really being shown — kids who are not in the same situation as the “average student,” quote, unquote, are the ones struggling. And I think it’s necessary for the teachers, and for the counselors and just everyone in the school staff to really just have open arms, especially for those homeless youth who don’t necessarily have a place to go, for the panelists, just like us, in our situation. School was the number one getaway for us — so for homeless students who don’t have that, I believe it’s necessary to open up a safe space, like a library, or someplace on campus, to provide for those who are in situations like that.

Christine: Specifically, thinking like rural areas, try not to lose contact with your students, because, especially if technology is a barrier, it’s very easy to lose track of who is where. And I know that school was one place where, like, McBeadie or teachers could be like, “Oh, Christine, like, are you OK, OK, like, you’re safe, you’re here.” But with technology, and virtual schooling, that’s not going to happen as much. So, be more intentional about that.

Christian: Listen to the concerns for any and all students who are at-risk, refer them to relevant community programs and resources, and also support them as they apply for opportunities, make use of their resources, and more.

What can be done by the Federal Government about this?

Christian: The government needs to provide the foundation for specific, regional programs to be established. A program’s impact on a student-to-student basis is much more important than anything else, and by having programs that are well-funded and on a smaller scale, a student just may be able to make that genuine connection they need to elevate themselves. In essence, allowing for local reforms to be created and funded would mean at-risk youth could elevate themselves socially and economically,

Thoughts on having schools require cameras on during instructions over Zoom?

Christian: From a teacher’s perspective, I can see the value of requiring cameras, so that you can verify a student’s attendance and participation. However, students who are experiencing homelessness, while juggling inconsistent internet connection and general life instability, should be able to opt-out of this requirement, as it places at-risk students in an uncomfortable position of having to showcase their immediate circumstances and background to the whole class.

“We had a hearing in the Education and Labour Committee and we brought a young man named Robbie from my district, and Robbie told his story and how his life had been turned around by these programs. And literally everyone in the hearing room, Republicans, Democrats, staff, committee clerks and those who were there in the audience were in tears listening to his story. And so that, that showed me a couple of things. One is how effective these programs can be, and secondly, how easy it was to generate support for these programs.”
U.S. Representative John Yarmuth (D-KY)

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