Basic Needs

Published: April 27, 2021

Basic needs typically refer to the fundamental support and resources people need to survive. Examples of basic needs include food, shelter, transportation, clothes, clean water, education, mental and physical health, and access to quality health care. Without reliable access to necessities, students experiencing homelessness often fall behind in academic, physical, and social development compared to their housed peers. Schools and community-based organizations can help bridge opportunity and development gaps by providing essential items and services. Pandemic-related school closures has brought to light the significant role schools and community centers play in providing students and families with much-needed resources and support services.

(Note: Abbreviations following recommendations indicate sources for those recommendations. See the Sources Key for details.)

Items and Supplies

Goal 1: Students and families experiencing homelessness are provided with additional basic needs necessities and support services from schools to ensure students’ academic success.

  1. Schools should provide tangible items (e.g., school supplies, food, clothes, hygiene supplies) that will help students and families. (PE, LE)
    • Strategy 1: Implement in-school food programs. An example of how schools can do this is by discreetly filling students’ backpacks with food to make sure they have enough to eat while schools are closed during weekends and breaks.
    • Strategy 2: Provide extra lockers in discreet areas in or around schools for students to store their valuables and clothes.
    • Strategy 3: Provide access to showers and washing machines.
    • Strategy 4: Establish a community resource room where students and families have access to food, clothing, and hygiene supplies (e.g., small bottles of shampoo and conditioner, soap, toothbrushes and toothpastes, tampons and sanitary napkins, shaving supplies).
    • Strategy 5: Partner with community-based organizations to provide on-site childcare, health care, behavioral health services, or similar support services for students and families.
    • Strategy 6: Collect donated gift cards or purchase gift cards for students and families from major retailers (e.g., Walmart, Target, Safeway, Grocery Outlet, etc.).
    • Strategy 7: Provide all required school supplies for students experiencing homelessness. School supplies go beyond pencils and paper; students need reliable computers and internet service to keep up with remote learning.
      • During the COVID-19 pandemic…
        School districts purchased school supplies and supported students beyond their usual capacity to ensure access to remote learning during the pandemic. For example, with our Washington State Student and Youth Homelessness COVID-19 Response Fund, Franklin Pierce School District, Pend Oreille School District, and Shelton School District purchased laptops, insurance for their devices, and Wi-Fi hotspots, and helped to cover families’ internet bills.
  2. Connect students and families to external organizations that can distribute items to help students meet their basic needs outside of school hours. Examples of items that can help students are food, hygiene supplies, blankets, school supplies, computers, gas cards, gift cards, and baby products. While school buildings are closed or have limited hours during the pandemic, organizations can step in to provide additional support for students and families experiencing homelessness. (PE)
    • Strategy 1: Community-based organizations should work with several districts to bring in additional funds that will support more students and families.
    • Strategy 2: Open virtual and “drive-and-go” resource centers to minimize health risks in a pandemic.
      • During the COVID-19 pandemic…
        Bethel School District’s McKinney-Vento staff hosted a socially distant drive-thru event with resources and school supplies for students and families experiencing homelessness.
  3. Schools or community providers should provide flexible funding for students and families to help them meet their most urgent needs. (PE, LE)
    • Strategy 1: Allow schools to access flexible funding for emergencies, to provide rental assistance and cover accumulating bills, gas, clothing, items for babies, and any other urgent needs.
      • During the COVID-19 pandemic…
        Our Washington State Student and Youth Homelessness COVID-19 Response Fund grantees used flexible funding to help pay utility bills for students and their families and to provide rental assistance.“The families we were working with were trying to get stable, but they were mainly working in the service industry. Their employment was impacted because of the pandemic and service support access was also impacted. Therefore, flexible funding was a godsend in helping our families.” -Washington Kids in TransitionThe REACH Center, a nonprofit organization, used Cash App, a digital payment service, to get funding directly to students and young people experiencing homelessness and housing instability.
  4. Provide students and families with health and hygiene supplies, such as masks, thermometers, medicine, and soap. (PE)
    • During the COVID-19 pandemic…
      With support from our COVID-19 Response Fund, the Fife School District purchased 300 thermometers for households to monitor symptoms during the pandemic.

Life Skills for Youth/Young Adults

Goal 1: Students and families experiencing homelessness, including unaccompanied youth, have access to training opportunities that will help them acquire essential life skills.

  1. Provide a variety of training courses depending on the needs of students and families experiencing homelessness. Training courses can be for driving, computer literacy, English language, financial management, or employment readiness. (PE, LE)

Sources Key

AcronymnCategorySources Include:
PEProfessional ExpertiseBuilding Changes staff; school and district staff interviewed through Schoolhouse Washington-funded projects and our Students of Color project
LELived ExpertiseInterviews with with parents, students (including those from our Students of Color project), and school staff in Washington State
MMMixed-methods ResearchBeating the Odds quantitative and qualitative analysis showing association between a practice and better-than-predicted outcomes

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