national center for homeless education | nche

Potential Warning Signs of Homelessness

photo of a silhouette of a girl holding booksThe warning signs listed below are common signs of homelessness among students, however, there is significant variability within the school-age homeless population. Individual students may differ greatly from the general characteristics listed below.


Download the warning signs.

Lack of Continuity in Education
Attendance at many different schools
Lack of personal records needed to enroll
Inability to pay fees
Gaps in skill development
Mistaken diagnosis of abilities
Poor organizational skills
Poor ability to conceptualize

Poor Health/Nutrition
Lack of immunizations and/or immunization records
Unmet medical and dental needs
Increased vulnerability to colds and flu
Respiratory problems
Skin rashes
Chronic hunger (may horde food)
Fatigue (may fall asleep in class)

Transportation and Attendance Problems
Erratic attendance and tardiness
Numerous absences
Lack of participation in after-school activities
Lack of participation in field trips
Absences on days when students bring special treats from home
Inability to contact parents

Poor Hygiene
Lack of shower facilities/washers, etc.
Wearing same clothes for several days
Inconsistent grooming – well-groomed one day, poorly groomed the next

Lack of Privacy/Personal Space After School
Consistent lack of preparation for school
Incomplete or missing homework (no place to work or keep supplies)
Unable to complete special projects (no access to supplies)
Lack of basic school supplies
Loss of books and other supplies on a regular basis
Concern for safety of belongings
Refusing invitations from classmates

Social and Behavioral Concerns
A marked change in behavior
Poor/short attention span
Poor self esteem
Extreme shyness
Unwillingness to risk forming relationships with peers and teachers
Difficulty socializing at recess
Difficulty trusting people
Aggression
"Old" beyond years
Protective of parents
Clinging behavior
Developmental delays
Fear of abandonment
School phobia (student wants to be with parent)
Need for immediate gratification
Anxiety late in the school day

Reactions/Statements by Parent, Guardian, or Child
Exhibiting anger or embarrassment when asked about current address
Mention of staying with grandparents, other relatives, friends, or in a motel
Comments such as:
"I don't remember the name of our previous school."
"We've been moving around a lot."
"Our address is new; I can't remember it." (may hide lack of permanent address)
"We're staying with relatives until we get settled."
"We're going through a bad time right now."
"We've been unpacking, traveling, etc." (to explain poor appearance and/or hygiene)


(These warning signs were adapted from flyers developed by the Illinois and Pennsylvania Departments of Education.)

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The National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) is the U.S. Department of Education's technical assistance center for the federal Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Program. NCHE is housed at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

This website was produced with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, on contract no. ED-01-CO-0092/0001. The content of this website does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Education or the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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