RACINE, Wis. — More than 17,000 students across Wisconsin were homeless at some point in the 2019-2020 school year, according to the latest data available from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

That school year was also partially affected by COVID-19 shutdowns.

What You Need To Know

  • In the 2019-2020 school year, the Wisconsin DPI said there were more than 17,000 homeless students in the state

  • It's an issue school districts are continuing to work with

  • The Racine Unified School District said it has nearly 700 homeless students this year
  • Typically, RUSD said it can have as many as 1,200 homeless students a year

While that number is down nearly 1,500 students since 2013, it’s still an issue school districts are dealing with.

Every day Melissa Wemmert spends time at Horlick, Case, and Park High School in Racine. She’s a Families in Transition case manager with Racine Unified School District.

She keeps tabs on about 100 students and works with about 50 in a one-on-one-type setting.

“It is like a partnered, intensive study hall where students can work side-by-side with me to get help on assignments, to go through questions,” Wemmert said.

The students she works with are students living in temporary housing, “doubled up.” That means they’re living with a friend or different family member, or those who are homeless.

“I don’t think people realize how big of an issue it actually is because we don’t have people necessarily sleeping on the streets, sleeping on benches, under bridges or whatever that you might see in bigger cities like Milwaukee,” said Kaylee Cutler, the Families in Transition specialist with RUSD. “But it’s still a huge issue.”

Cutler identified nearly 700 students as homeless in the district, but Cutler said less than 600 are actively enrolled. 

“They’re not staying in school,” Cutler said. “They’re moving around to other places.”

Moving around from shelter to shelter, home to home, and school to school can cause a lot of stress for students when they’re in the classroom too.

So, the district is doing everything it can to stop that cycle.

They help with transportation, help get families in contact with resources, get school supplies, hygiene products, and even clothing to students in need. They also help students catch up on classwork.

“It can be so overwhelming,” Cutler said of the families’ lives. “You’re already dealing with trying to find a place for your children to sleep and you’re trying to figure things out — it’s a lot going on at once. When you have that helping hand and that person to help guide you and show you, it’s extremely helpful to have that support and that person to lean on.”

And the program, Cutler and Wemmert said, is helping.

“I had kids going from failing eight classes in the spring of last year to passing six classes,” Wemmert said. “So, instead of focusing on ‘well, yes, they did still fail two classes,’ that is a huge increase in improvement.”

You can learn more about Racine Unified School District’s Families in Transition program on their website.