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The Mentor’s Field Guide: Question 55

We hope your mentee is in a shelter that is close enough for you to continue your relationship. Your support during this challenging time will be crucial. Express ongoing respect and concern, not pity. Your mentee is probably very worried about his parents and the future of his whole family. It can be a time of very high anxiety, made worse by the fact that the family may not have any answers regarding what will happen next.
If you have a program coordinator, he or she may be able to get more information about your mentee’s family situation. If not, you can talk directly to the family if you have a relationship with them. Some of the things you may want to know are whether your mentee will be able to attend school and whether the family has a plan for leaving the shelter for alternative housing or will have to stay there for the indefinite future. You can ask whether there are specific things the family would like you to do to support their child.
Assuming you are able to continue your relationship, you will be better equipped to support your mentee if you educate yourself about homelessness and how it affects young people. The staff at the shelter will probably be more than willing to talk with you about their experiences and what they have learned. Federal law requires that every state have a plan and system for educating homeless children, so your state education department is a good place for more information. Another source of information is the website of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth ( There and elsewhere you will not be surprised to learn that your mentee will face numerous challengers, including the following:

  • Loss of her home, possessions, and even pets.
    • Stress of living in a shelter: coping with loss of privacy, cramped space, and potential for conflicts with other residents.
    • Possibility of multiple moves and of having to switch schools with each move, which can lead to nonattendance.
    • Possibility of having to live with other family members in cramped conditions.
    • Embarrassment and fear that his friends at school will find out he is living in a shelter.
    • Increased stress and conflict in the family.
    These circumstances may all be difficult for your mentee to cope with, so the more you can encourage her to talk about how she is feeling, the better. You also can be responsive to basic needs that are going unmet. Check to see if your mentee has supplies to do homework, books to read, and basic grooming supplies. Provide them if your program’s budget or your personal budget allows.


Reprinted with permission from The Mentor’s Field guide: Answers You Need to Help Kids Succeed by Gail Manza and Susan K. Patrick; Questions about the Mentoring Relationship, Question 55. Reprinted with permission from Search Institute®, Copyright © 2012 Search Institute, Minneapolis, MN ; 877-240-7251, ext. 1; All rights reserved.