Back To School: Going to School While Homeless in the U.S.

Through the month of August, we’re featuring stories about children going back to school in the United States and abroad. Join us to celebrate the joy and power of education.

back to school while homeless

This month, about 30 million children in the United States will say goodbye to the last days of summer. Together with their parents, they will go shopping for new notebooks and other school supplies; pick out a new outfit for the first day of school; and cannonball into the pool for the very last time.

But 2.5 million young people in the U.S. will have an entirely different experience. They will go back to school unprepared, without new school supplies, a new outfit, or even shoes that fit them. Later, they will miss out on academic, athletic, and social opportunities at school. They will be targeted by bullies, causing low self-esteem and confidence.

Why? Because 2.5 million young people in the United States are homeless. Today, we’re sharing the story of Jennifer, a 16-year-old who became homeless with her family a few years ago, and how her life changed after gaining confidence with a new pair of shoes. Thanks to Youth Honoree Nicholas Lowinger, founder of Gotta Have Sole, for sharing this story with us!

Going to School While Homeless

At the beginning of the school year, Jennifer and her family were evicted from their apartment and started living in a homeless shelter. Jennifer loved school, especially art and writing, but she was forced to repeat a grade because she had missed too many classes. One of the reasons was because of her shoes; she had to share her younger brother’s shoes, which were way too small for her feet. This made her walk with a limp, causing her peers at school to tease her, imitate her walk, and talk behind her back.

Often, Jennifer would return home in tears, unable to complete her homework. She fell further and further behind in school, grew more anxious, and started to treat her brother with distain.

gotta have sole
A little girl opens her new pair of shoes from Gotta Have Sole.

A Life-Changing Pair of Shoes

One afternoon, the shelter advocate called Jennifer and her family into their office. They were told that Jennifer and her brother were going to receive brand-new sneakers in their sizes from Gotta Have Sole, a nonprofit started by Youth Honoree Nicholas Lowinger. Jennifer covered her face and began to cry.

A few days later, Nicholas delivered Jennifer’s new shoes.

“Jennifer and I had a chance to talk and share our mutual love of writing,” Nicholas wrote. “She told me that she was going to write an essay about this experience and how it made her feel.”

Going Back to School with Confidence

When Jennifer returned to school with her new shoes, she stopped missing class, feeling more confident and comfortable. She quickly began to catch up to her peers and remembered how much she enjoyed writing. Her English teacher submitted the essay she wrote about her experience to a contest; it won first place, and was announced in school. Other students in class congratulated her: it was the first time in a long time that Jennifer had received a compliment from her peers.

Today, Jennifer is excelling in school, and plans to study journalism in college.

“We often take for granted having a new pair of shoes,” Nicholas wrote, “but they can truly transform a life.”

You can help children in the United States and around the world have a great school year by funding new school supplies, shoes, backpacks, and more. Donate today >>

  • Impact Delivered to Your Inbox

    Sign up to receive stories and updates from around the world.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.