Q1 Report - Issue Spotlight: Hidden Impacts of Evictions & Youth

Evictions profoundly impact millions nationally; however, the structure of the eviction court system conceals one of the most vulnerable demographic groups: children. Despite a lack of comprehensive national data on household compositions during evictions, it is estimated that from 2007 – 2016, 2.9 million children faced eviction filings annually, according to a 2023 study linking national eviction data with US Census Bureau statistics.

Locally, in Dane County, using the Eviction Defense and Diversion Partnership (EDDP) intake data, we find that children are similarly impacted. Nearly half (49%) of all eviction court cases in 2023 and Quarter 1 of 2024 involved at least one child in the household, with TRC reporting that 1,069 children faced eviction during that time period in Dane County.

This local data resonates with national findings and magnifies the importance of understanding how housing instability affects children’s daily lives and futures. Recognizing this, the Tenant Resource Center (TRC) consulted Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) staff to uncover insights into this often-overlooked demographic.

MMSD and Youth Housing Instability
Sonia Spencer, the Senior Strategic Partnerships Coordinator at MMSD, and Laura Glaub, a lead school social worker, provided a wealth of information about the direct effects of housing instability on children’s school performance and well-being. Both emphasized that homelessness and the threat of eviction disrupt not only attendance but also student’s mental health, emotional development, sense of belonging amongst their peers, and their ability to engage meaningfully in school and extracurricular activities.

For Sonia and Laura, both have witnessed how children in families facing housing instability tend to “grow up faster” or show a level of maturity that’s not fitting of their age. Many of these children are taking on feelings of responsibility to find a solution to their family’s housing crisis and support their siblings and even sometimes their parents through the situation. Additionally, EDDP staff have witnessed how some landlords have filed eviction cases against all members of a household, creating an eviction record for a child that is not automatically removed from the court record and that they could carry the burden of into adulthood.

The MMSD duo shared other poignant insights from their experiences. Schools, they noted, often serve as the first point of contact for struggling families, where parents seek help discreetly due to fears of social repercussions. This reality positions schools as critical support hubs where partnerships with local organizations can provide tangible resources such as housing assistance, food supplies, and more, all aimed at alleviating the pressures these families face.

Sonia, drawing from her 12 years of experience at Mendota Elementary School, highlighted initiatives like “community schools”, or the movement to transforming schools into community hubs that proactively address various student needs, including those stemming from housing insecurity. One such initiative at Mendota involved bringing a full pantry into the school to support students and their families directly. Sonia and Laura find that gathering resources in one place, like a school, can ease access for highly mobile families who may be navigating multiple schools across their children’s academic pathways.

Laura, with her background as an after-school program director before becoming a social worker, advocates for a shift in perspective within the social work field. She argues for moving away from punitive measures like suspensions and toward a more holistic understanding of absenteeism and other behavioral issues as symptoms of deeper problems such as housing insecurity.

Both Sonia and Laura stressed the importance of creating and maintaining robust support systems within schools, particularly for families of color. According to Laura, “we need more community in schools, more community volunteers, so people [students and families] can see themselves in the school”. They advocate for multiple channels of support not only for the students but also for their families, facilitating access to community resources. This approach not only supports academic success but also fosters a sense of community and belonging that can mitigate the impacts of eviction and housing instability.

As schools continue to adapt to the needs of their students, especially those facing such profound challenges, the work of Sonia, Laura, and their colleagues remains vital. It highlights the critical role of educational institutions in supporting vulnerable populations and alleviating the impacts of housing instability on youth. Nevertheless, Sonia and Laura maintain that to continue addressing poverty and housing insecurity, our community needs to think about wealth redistribution amongst communities in Madison and Dane County; redesign of the overall school system; and greater investment by schools, community agencies, and local government to meet families where they are at and ask them what supports they need, instead of making assumptions.

In essence, while evictions may seem like a singular legal issue, their ripple effects through the lives of children and families are profound. TRC’s data around children facing eviction along with the insights provided by MMSD staff underline the need for integrated support systems that address both the immediate and long-term needs of these families, ensuring that every child has the stability needed to thrive in school and beyond.