Hundreds of HISD students are homeless and COVID-19 is complicating matters. How the district is trying to help

HOUSTON – The start of a school year is full of excitement and challenges for students and teachers alike, even during a pandemic. The challenges can at times be overwhelming, especially if you’re a family dealing with homelessness.

The Houston Independent School District, like many large districts, is always looking for ways to help their homeless students and does so their Student Assistance Program.

“We’ve expanded our services from just focusing on the kids because in doing the work we realized that we have to stabilize the entire family. We can help you, we try to do a warm handoff, not just give a paper referral,” said Lisa Jackson, senior manager of the HISD Student Assistance Program.

The program’s primary goal is to identify at-risk students who are in foster care or in need of homeless assistance and provide them with various support strategies to enable, and empower them with the opportunity to graduate from high school.

Over the years, enrollment has fluctuated. It was highest in the 2017-18 school year, which was seen as a direct result of thousands of families displaced by Hurricane Harvey. This year, HISD estimates there are about 7,700 students currently enrolled in the Student Assistance Program, but COVID-19 is complicating matters.

“We love going out and working with families to determine... what their needs are, how we can assist them and we haven’t been able to do so,” Jackson said. “The biggest issue is that our population is unstable, so their phone may be disconnected and of course we’re not doing face to face visits right now.”

HISD said the schools with the highest number of students facing homelessness include:

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