SAN ANTONIO – Homelessness can come in many forms: living on someone’s couch, in shelters, in a car, or even on the street. And just wondering where they’ll lay their heads at night adds additional stresses to the lives of children and teens living in these situations.

  • Many families don’t want others to know they are experiencing homelessness
  • That can make it difficult for them to get help
  • A San Antonio woman with a personal experience is giving teachers knowledge to help

A San Antonio woman who spent her teenage years homeless is teaming up with a national organization in an attempt to end youth homelessness.

Irene, who asked Spectrum News not to use her last name for privacy reasons, spoke from experience at a recent workshop in San Antonio. The event was one of several that will take place across the country organized by a group called SchoolHouse Connection.

The goal is to help educators and counselors better understand how to approach students who may be experiencing homelessness and offer help. People like Irene who experienced growing up without a place to call home shared their stories during the workshop.

"I've been chronically homeless since the age of 5," she said. "My mother and I— she had type 1 diabetes, I have type 2 diabetes— If one of us got sick, she had to take time off of work. Being (in) entry level jobs— it just kind of took a toll on her work," said Irene.

She said she spent time going from couch to couch living with friends.

"When I was 16, (my mom) had to be hospitalized for about a month because of a liver infection and I became an unaccompanied youth. After she passed away in 2017, I became homeless as an adult," said Irene.

Now in her 20s, Irene has overcome a number challenges and is working to raise awareness so adults in the lives of children can recognize the signs of homelessness and know how to help.

According to the National Center for Homeless Education, during the 2017-2018 school year there were over 230,000 homeless students in Texas and more than 1,500,000 nationwide.

These include students like Irene who may not fit the typical picture of what homelessness looks like. Many of the students are “doubled up,” meaning they are living in a household with another family.

"The latest data from public school(s) found that over 1.5 million students are experiencing homelessness. And those are just the children these schools know about," said Patricia Julianelle, co-founder of SchoolHouse Connection.

"Right now I feel like it can't be solved," said Irene. She described how many families hide homelessness and find ways to cope without outside help.

 "They don't want to get involved in social services. They don't want to risk their children going into foster care so families really strive to hide their homelessness," explained Julianelle.

During the workshops, educators are challenged to come up with a plan and brainstorm methods to discretely offer help to families. SchoolHouse Connection works with public and charter schools to craft a plan and monitor results. 

"If we really take the contributing factors of homelessness seriously, if we really focus on education, health care, mental health care, as well as housing, and we really take a wraparound of all of the issues that in play here, I think in five or 10 years we can see a significant decrease in youth and family homelessness," said Julianelle.

Irene credits mentors with keeping her from falling behind: "They insured that I got to school on time. I did attend 11 schools but I was able to stay in my high school for all four years."