A Shelter of Support: The Experience of Homelessness

A Shelter of Support banner


November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month!

“Homelessness continues to be a pervasive issue across our country with children being greatly impacted,” said Amanda Zybala, Mental Health Program Manager at KIPP SoCal Public Schools. “In the 2018-2019 school year, around 1.4 million children across the nation were identified as experiencing homelessness in grades TK-12. This number has continued to grow due to the pandemic and the housing crisis, especially in larger cities with high rent like Los Angeles.”

During National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, we hosted our #WellnessWednesday community information session via Facebook Live @kippsocal, where our Mental Health & Support Services team members shared the educational rights of youth experiencing homelessness, and informed all about the resources and supports KIPP SoCal provides to create a “shelter of support” for those families experiencing homelessness in our school communities.

Wellness Wednesday November

“The number of youth experiencing homelessness at any point in time in Los Angeles and San Diego is unacceptably high,” noted Ms. Zybala.


Did you  know that homelessness is associated with an 87% likelihood of dropping out of school, chronic absenteeism, and disproportionate school discipline? “Behavior is communication and often times the impact caused by the stress of housing instability/homelessness can result in challenging behaviors,” stressed Ms. Zybala. 

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), “many homeless youth are also victims of trauma.” NCTSN reports say that students with “complex trauma” have “overactive alarm systems” and may feel especially threatened, vulnerable and/or rejected. In other words, “complex trauma causes the brain to interpret minor events as threatening, [whether real or perceived,] so these students may not be able to realistically appraise danger or safety” and instead the ‘fight/flight/freeze’ response is activated. They may be:1

  • Anxious, worried, tense  
  • Angry, agitated, or irritable  
  • Withdrawn or depressed  
  • Sleepy and tired in class (due to difficulty sleeping, bad dreams, or nightmares)  
  • Uncomfortable with transitions and routine changes  
  • Jumpy or easily startled by sudden sounds or movements, such as bells, sirens, or changes in lighting
  • Self-destructive or self-injurious  
  • Anticipating rejection and abandonment


Ms. Zybala explained that “The McKinney-Vento Homelessness Act was developed to eliminate the discrimination of homeless students by protecting their rights and ensuring they receive the same quality education as all other students.” Families may be eligible for services and have rights under this Act, which includes:

  • Bus passes to and from school for families that qualify (must live outside of a certain distance from school)
  • Ability to be at the top of the waitlist for after school programs or automatic enrollment for open slots without fees
  • Receiving basic needs for school (i.e., backpacks, pens, paper, and uniforms) and supply hygiene items (i.e., deodorant, soap, shampoo, feminine hygiene products, etc.)
  • And more!


We, at KIPP SoCal Public Schools, aim to support each student by removing barriers to equal educational opportunities for all, especially our unhoused students. 

As Ms. Zybala stated, "Every child is one of our children — this is what community is all about." Our Mental Health and Support Services team works with our teachers to help them understand what trauma may look like in the classroom and how to respond with compassion. It is of utmost importance that our teachers are trauma-informed when assessing children’s behaviors. We know that students benefit greatly from relationships with supportive adults at school, including their School Leader, teacher, and school counselor. 

In addition, each of our schools has a designated Homeless Liaison available in the main office! Some of their responsibilities include:

  • Sending home McKinney-Vento Enrollment Form 3x/year — we do this at the beginning of the year, in January and again before the end of the year, but you are able to enroll anytime during the school year!
  • Answering questions about your rights and eligibility — if you are not sure if you are eligible, our registrars can help! We know these are sensitive conversations so this information is kept confidential between our registrar, school leadership and counselor.
  • Posting public notices of students rights — each school has a poster in English and Spanish.
  • Removing barriers to enrollment — if you are missing documents and are experiencing homelessness, you are able to automatically enroll.
  • Helping you automatically enroll in free & reduced lunch — we want to make sure students have access to meals while they are in the school building.
  • Providing bus passes, if eligible — bus passes to and from school can be provided for students over 12 and students and a caregiver under age 12, if they are outside of a certain mileage of your child’s school.
  • Making a referral to a School Counselor — our school counselors can help connect you to resources!
  • Sharing available resources — we sometimes get donations and other information from community partners and will reach out to our McKinney-Vento families for access first.

"All year round, we are creating connections, sharing community resources, and showing authentic love to help empower each student within and outside our school campuses," concluded Ms. Zybala.

Wellness Wednesday

If you have any questions relating to your student's needs or support services, please reach out to your School Counselor for help or email our Mental Health & Support Services Team at wellness@kippsocal.org.

1. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Retrieved from www.nctsn.org.