What Are Biggest Back-to-School Challenges?

Diane Nilan
5 min readAug 29, 2022

Homelessness Ranks #1 for Many

Homelessness has biggest impact on kids of color. Ontario, OR school. Photo Diane Nilan

Well-intentioned school personnel and community volunteers have gone out of their way to ease back-to-school time, especially for kids struggling with big challenges — poverty and homelessness. Covid requires extensive measures to reach and teach kids outside the mainstream. More federal resources than ever have poured into connecting disconnected students with school. But one thing is missing.

You can’t sleep in a backpack or survive on snack foods provided by generous donors. Your self-esteem doesn’t rise because you have a pair of new shoes.

Why do we dance around the obvious?

Families and youth without housing need a steadfast, decent place to live. Period. Sure, other stuff is needed and appreciated, but a place to safely and regularly lay your head is paramount, and to date, seemingly impossible.

One ignored reality: millions of kids, with families and without, lack homes, but are “not homeless enough” to get the help they need from HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development). They are doubled up, in motels, or in a combination of survival iterations that exclude them from HUD’s definition of homelessness.

Criticism of HUD’s estimation of homelessness abound, from yours truly and others.

Over time, however, academics and advocates have criticized HUD’s approach.

“The HUD data is just catching a fraction of the people,” said Samuel Carlson, the manager of research and outreach at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. (Washington Post, 8/24/22)

boy sleeping on a bench
Boy sleeping on a bench. Photo Diane Nilan

Every kid I’ve talked to about school in my 35+ years working with families experiencing homelessness wants to be a fully-participating student. They are painfully excluded from that status by virtue of their lacking what every human needs — a place to call home.

Reading about the psychological agony of over-medicated teens (NYT 8/27/22), securely housed and apparently cared for, reiterates the challenges kids go through in the…

Diane Nilan

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 18 yrs. on US backroads. hearus.us