The FACES of the Homeless in Oakland County

What ‘Homeless’ Looks Like…

Oakland Schools

Were you expecting the usual stereotype of an addicted or mentally ill society-dropout? An unstable, unkempt street person whose family had long since given up on helping?

Real-life is both surprising and unsettling:

  • 40% of all homeless people are children.
  • Half of homeless students eat just one meal a day.
  • We have homeless students in every one of the 28 school districts in Oakland County.

Homeless students are impossible to pick out of a photograph. They look, act, hope and dream just like other kids – but they carry extra burdens that are difficult for those with homes to fully understand:

Oakland Schools

It is hard to learn when you are hungry. It is tough to concentrate when you are worried about where you will sleep at night. It is not easy to prioritize homework when living at a shelter, in a friend’s basement, in a motel or out of a car. It is challenging to keep up with your peers when you lose 4-6 months of academic progress for each school change. 

And the projected future is harsh for the estimated 6,500 students eligible for homeless services in Oakland County, as only 38% will graduate from high school on time. The cycle of poverty is difficult to break without a degree; in the adult homeless population, 50% dropped out of school before graduating.

The Oakland Schools Homeless Student Education Program (OSHSEP) is dedicated to helping homeless students succeed in school by providing the resources that normally disappear when homelessness occurs. The program is comprehensive; as its web-page states, OSHSEP is committed to working with local homeless student liaisons in each district to assist with enrollment and transportation arrangements. Services also include school supplies, necessary school clothing, connection to tutors, and assistance with the cost of school programs. Students may be eligible to attend summer school free of charge, and graduating seniors can receive information regarding college application and financial aid opportunities for homeless students.


In Michigan, foreclosure, unemployment and loss of jobless benefits have contributed mightily to first-time homelessness. Affected families are embarrassed by their unexpected circumstances and many are unaware of available services. Agencies are struggling to help, but are working with fixed budgets that have been over-stretched by the drastic increase in homeless families. The Oakland Schools Homeless Student Education Program is facing fallout from Michigan’s recession; our state may be slowly recovering, but it is not revitalizing quickly enough for thousands of our youngest citizens.

CBS Detroit reported Michigan’s mounting mismatch of hugely increased homelessness and severely decreased federal funding back in April:

“Michigan has seen a 66 percent rise in homeless students over four years and the state is facing the prospect of reduced federal funding to help with the problem. The number of homeless students in the state was up to more than 37,500 in 2011-12, from about 22,600 in 2009-10, according to the state Department of Education. In 2011, Michigan received $2.3 million in federal funds, or $40.47 per homeless student.

The state is getting the same amount for 2012-13, but an expected increase in homelessness is expected to reduce the subsidy to about $21.02 per student. The automatic reduction in the federal budget, meanwhile, is expected to cut funding by five percent for 2013-14.”

“Our need is so great”, said Susan Benson, director of Oakland Schools Community Programs and Special Projects. “We work with students all year, and while the holidays are a tremendously difficult time, so is January 25th – and February 25th. Unfortunately, homelessness is not just a holiday thing.”

Holidays are when we all think of HOME, however, and of spending time with people we love in a safe, warm, welcoming place. You can help a homeless child overcome his or her circumstances and stay on track in school with a holiday donation to the Oakland Schools Homeless Student Education Program.


Donations of money or gift cards provide the greatest flexibility in meeting the needs of students and their families. OSHSEP assistance is provided on a case by case basis; donated funds are used when OSHSEP has exhausted other community alternatives. Your  donation may be used by OSHSEP to purchase necessary school supplies, school clothing, fees required for participation in band or sports camps, field trips, emergency food, and emergency motel stays when shelters are full.

The face of homelessness in Oakland County is found in growing numbers on our school-aged children. Your donation could be the invisible hand that helps a student upward…or the virtual hug from someone who supports education and a child’s dream of a happy home and successful future.

 Donations to OSHSEP may be sent to:

Oakland Schools
Attn: Oakland Schools Homeless Student Services
2111 Pontiac Lake Road
Waterford, MI 48328
(Please make checks out to ‘Oakland Schools Homeless Student Education Program’; as an Intermediate School District, Oakland Schools is not a tax-deductible institution. Please check with your tax expert for more information.)


“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”  ~ Fred Rogers



Oakland Schools Homeless Student Education Program

Michigan Dept. of Education Homeless Education Page


The 10 Worst States for Student Homelessness – takepart

Michigan’s Student Homelessness Problem is Growing – MI Radio/NPR

Michigan Sees Increase in Homeless Students – CBS Detroit

Michigan’s Homeless Students: How to Get, Give Help – Detroit Free Press


Two short VIDEOS from the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) describe “How Youth Cope with Losing Their Homes and How Your School Can Help”:

 [Note: for privacy, the image of the children in this post is representational, not actual]

Oakland Schools

by Blog Editor: Jean MacLeod, Communications/Oakland Schools


 Oakland Schools • 2111 Pontiac Lake Road • Waterford, MI 48328-2736 • 248.209.2000


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