Common Signs of Homelessness

Common Signs of Homelessness

While these are considered common signs, please recognize that they only offer general guidance.  There is significant variability within the school-age homeless population. Individual students may differ significantly from the following general characteristics.

Lack of Continuity in Education

  • Attendance at many different schools
  • Lack of records needed to enroll
  • Inability to pay fees
  • Gaps in skill development
  • Mistaken diagnosis of abilities
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Poor ability to conceptualize

Poor Health/Nutrition

  • Lack of immunizations and/or immunization records
  • Unmet medical and dental needs
  • Respiratory problems
  • Skin rashes
  • Chronic hunger (may hoard food)
  • Fatigue (may fall asleep in class)

Transportation and Attendance Problems

  • Erratic attendance and tardiness
  • Numerous absences
  • Lack of participation in after-school activities
  • Lack of participation in field trips
  • Inability to contact parents

Poor Hygiene

  • Lack of shower facilities/washers, etc.
  • Wearing same clothes for several days
  • Inconsistent grooming

Lack of Personal Space After School

  • Consistent lack of preparation for school
  • Incomplete or missing homework (no place to work or keep supplies)
  • Unable to complete special projects (no access to supplies)
  • Lack of basic school supplies
  • Loss of books and other supplies on a regular basis
  • Concern for safety of belongings

Social and Behavioral Concerns

  • A marked change in behavior
  • Poor/short attention span
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Extreme shyness
  • Unwillingness to risk forming relationships with peers and teachers
  • Difficulty socializing at recess
  • Difficulty trusting people
  • Aggression
  • "Old" beyond years
  • Protective of parents
  • Clinging behavior
  • Developmental delays
  • Fear of abandonment
  • School phobia (student wants to be with parent)
  • Anxiety late in the school day

Reaction/Statements by Parent, Guardian or Child

Exhibiting anger or embarrassment when asked about current address

Mention of staying with grandparents, other relatives, friends, or in a motel, or comments such as:

  • "I don't remember the name of the last school."
  • "We've been moving around a lot."
  • "Our address is new; I can't remember it."
  • "We're staying with relatives until we get settled."
  • "We're going through a bad time."

"Common Signs," courtesy of the Illinois and Pennsylvania Departments of Education.