Homeless students

Billie Firmin and Austin Liu

When homelessness is brought up, people may think of the stereotypical image of a homeless person: an elderly man or woman sleeping on doorsteps or begging on street corners.

But in Washington and Benton counties, this is not the case. According to a homeless census administered by Dr. Kevin Fitzpatrick of the University of Arkansas, there are 2,591 people in Northwest Arkansas who experience unstable living conditions. 1,547 of these people are eighteen years of age or younger, and therefore attend public schools.

Fitzpatrick has been conducting this census with help from volunteers since 2007.

“The growth in the region in the general population has been about six percent. The growth in the homeless population has been about 115 percent,” said Fitzpatrick.

Many homeless students do not live on the streets, but rather stay with friends or in shelters as they do not have a home of their own, and are considered “transient”.

“That’s an important part of the narrative of homelessness in Northwest Arkansas and places around the country; that we cannot just focus on those who are most visible but rather the ones who are invisible, like those who are doubling up with friends and relatives,” said Fitzpatrick.

Spanish teacher Pete Howard says that he was aware that homeless students attend FHS and has been for years.

“Over the years I’ve known of and had several students who are homeless or have unsteady living conditions,” said Howard.

Fayetteville High School is aware of the issue of homeless students and has several programs in place to assist students in need.

Every year in November, Fayetteville High School’s Student Council members hold a homeless vigil where they collect donations and non perishable food items.

“Both the cash donations and the food items will be used to help the students in need in our district and their families,” according to a bulletin about the event posted on the school’s website.

The Fayetteville School District is also a supporter of the Free and Reduced Lunch program and offers it to students at every school. This program can help students in precarious living situations receive two free meals a day while they are at school.

Despite these efforts, homeless students still struggle and need all the assistance they can get.

Howard said that he believes the Fayetteville school district can deliver more aid to students in need.

“I think that being more engaged with these kids and becoming more educated about what they go through and need help with could really make a difference in our district, but our superintendent [Dr. Matthew Wendt] has told us before that he’d like to focus more on the issue,” said Howard.

Recognizing the issues that they deal with and providing help to them in any way is the first step to ending homelessness in the Northwest Arkansas school districts.

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