Unaccompanied Homeless Students in New York City
Jasmin Sandelson

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Harvard University

Primary Discipline

In 2015, for the first time, a majority of public school students were recorded as coming from low-income families. Teachers are increasingly tasked with mitigating family poverty as schools try to diversify the support they offer poor students. As student poverty has risen, so has student homelessness: almost 3% of all public school students lack a stable home. The fastest growing but least researched subgroup of the nation’s homeless population is unaccompanied youth: 1.6 million 14-to-24-year-olds experience homelessness with no parent or guardian each year. Unaccompanied homeless students face perhaps the most severe educational challenges. They rely on schools to fulfill needs met usually by families.This dissertation uses mixed qualitative methods: ethnography with homeless high-school and college students, and interviews with students, teachers and staff. It explores the trajectories of homeless students; chronicles the techniques by which they manage to go to school; maps the form and content of their peer relationships; and charts the educational and institutional dynamics that they navigate. This research will advance scholarship on poverty and education in three ways. First, it will update the portrait of student homelessness by focusing on the fastest growing subgroup. Second, it will consider the role of educational institutions in reproducing educational disparities for homeless students. Third, it will speak to contemporary debates about ‘deep’ poverty in American cities and schools. The study will also develop policy recommendations for how to more effectively and appropriately serve unaccompanied homeless students.
About Jasmin Sandelson
Jasmin Sandelson is a doctoral student in sociology at Harvard University, where she is a Presidential Scholar. Originally from London, England, she earned a B.A in Politics, Psychology, and Sociology from the University of Cambridge. Her interests include social stratification, urban poverty, cultural sociology and the transition to adulthood. Her research focuses on how disadvantaged young people manage trajectories through adolescence. Her master’s paper, which received the Graduate Student Paper Award from the Society for Social Problems’ Youth, Aging, and the Life Course Section, explored patterns of peer support among low-income teens in Boston-area housing projects. Her dissertation uses mixed qualitative methods to investigate unaccompanied homeless students in New York City; high school and college students who are homeless with no parent or guardian. The study uses in-depth interviews and ethnographic fieldwork to shed light on their trajectories, their daily lives, and the social, educational, and institutional dynamics they must navigate. Previously, her work has been funded by Harvard University’s Center for American Political Studies, the Joint Center for Housing Studies, and the National Science Foundation.

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