Andrea is a teacher from London. She shares her own experience of homelessness as a child and the increasing number of pupils in her class who don’t have a place to call home.
I experienced homelessness when I was a child. My mother died suddenly when I was seven and my brother and I were moved around a lot.
We stayed with family and friends, we were put in temporary accommodation, and I changed primary school five times. It took me a long time to settle, and in that time I never really felt secure.
I’m now a teacher in London, and a mum. I have taught and supported a rapidly increasing number of children within homeless families. Thankfully these children aren’t on the streets, but living in temporary accommodation means they don’t have a stable, safe place to call home.
When you feel so insecure in where you live, it impacts on your relationships and on how you relate to other people. It not only makes children feel desperately sad, it affects their self-esteem so much that it’s a huge barrier to them reaching their potential.
I once asked a boy – with poor attendance – where he lived, and he was so vague. He drew one room with sparse furniture.
Everything was in one room. I said “Have you missed anything?” He said “No.” And I said, “But where is your bed?” And he looked at me and he said “I don’t have a bed, I sleep there,” and there was this dot on the page where he was at night. That’s when I first realised I could no longer assume children have beds.
I’ve had children who don’t want it to be the weekend; who are really devastated when school holidays come.
Some of the children at my school have expressed worries about feeling excluded, as a result of being new to yet another school with little or no understanding of what is being taught. They are often frustrated and sad. These emotions have a negative effect on their ability to succeed.
Looking around the school where I am today, the homeless children I teach aren’t any less able than others. But their transient lifestyles mean they feel disengaged with education, and so their well-housed peers ‘leap frog’ their progress.
I can relate to feeling excluded from the learning taking place within the classroom. I experienced feelings of frustration, resentment and sadness when my circumstances would not allow me to participate in school trips, complete homework or be on time for school.
My behaviour suffered, and I was angry and lacking in confidence.
I remember being punished for my inability to complete homework despite desperately wanting to do it. In my school now we provide free breakfast for those that need it, homework clubs and often give school uniforms and book bags to children without them.
For children whose parents are on a low income, who don’t have a home computer or even the space to complete or concentrate on homework, these things are vital.
As teachers, we are going above and beyond to try and counteract the impact of the disruption. Children in homeless families are often forced to change schools and friends on a regular basis, which can affect their emotional wellbeing and confidence.
Yet while teachers may have the knowledge and compassion to recognise the specific needs of homeless children, we only have limited resources to meet them. At times, we feel stuck – because there are pressures on us to get them to learn. But, it’s not uncommon for children to fall asleep during lessons or ask if there is a place where they can sleep.
Families being moved to accommodation outside their borough will encounter longer travelling time to school, which can cause lateness and poor attendance.
Disruption for children in temporary accommodation also means they miss on average 11 weeks of schooling annually. Some children going through housing issues may experience bullying and social exclusion, which can affect their self-esteem and their ability to succeed and form positive relationships.
The effects of homelessness on children can last a lifetime and cannot be underestimated. Unless children are given the equal educational opportunities that are so difficult for us to provide under these circumstances, this will lead to a disrupted and disadvantaged school career and future, which goes against all that teachers strive for and believe in.”
Shelter provides free, expert advice. If you are facing homelessness, call our helpline on 0800 800 4444 or visit our advice pages.
This Friday, hundreds of schools – including Andrea’s – will be taking part in Slippers for Shelter, with pupils and teachers wearing their slippers for the day to help raise money for Britain’s 100,000 homeless children.