(WHTM) — State lawmakers and school officials are bringing attention to students facing homelessness and the resources available to them and their families.

Lawmakers and advocates marked the beginning of Student Homelessness Awareness Week at the capitol Monday. Midstate school officials said serving these students goes far beyond the classroom.

Homelessness is an issue that affected at least 32,666 students in the Commonwealth during the 2020-21 school year, according to the state Department of Education.

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“You never know who’s experiencing it,” Saundra James-Goodrum, who works with homeless students in the Harrisburg School District. “What they’re going through is private, it’s personal.”

James-Goodrum said that sometimes homelessness or housing insecurity is uncovered right at registration, but school staff also refer students to her.

“I also get referrals from the school teachers, the school nurses, the school social workers,” she said.

Last year, Harrisburg School District served around 465 students and families experiencing homelessness. They are up to over 200 in 2022 but expect that number to rise. James-Goodrum said it is important to build trust with these students and families.

“Our interviews are confidential,” she said.

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“We need to suspend judgment,” Kate Diorio, director of pupil services in the Red Lion Area School District, said.

Diorio has been serving homeless students for over a decade.

“It was surprising to me how many children become homeless and become homeless over and over again,” she said.

She added her job does not end at the school door.

“I like to think of ourselves as the dot connectors, those who can connect students to the dots that they need,” she said.

Part of the job is meeting some basic needs, like nutrition and students’ physical health as well as getting them what they need for school.

“The backpacks and the supplies and your school uniform,” James-Goodrum said. “And now that it’s getting cold, we have the winter coats and the hats and the gloves.”

Diorio said she also gets students connected with “Health and hygiene items, medical care, dental care, things like that.”

Homelessness can have a serious impact on students in the classroom.

“There are so many gaps in their education if they are constantly moving,” Diorio said.

However, the impact goes beyond that. Diorio and James-Goodrum said mental health is a big part of their job.

“We have school therapists in all of our buildings there to meet with students, and I always encourage families to take advantage of the therapy,” James-Goodrum said.

Diorio described the impact on students’ social and emotional well-being, saying, “A piece of them is just taken away, or they are constantly wondering where they are going to be sleeping that night.”

Diorio said she wants people to know this can happen to anyone.

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“We could all be one terrible event from being homeless,” she said.

School officials also said the number of students experiencing homelessness is probably underreported, because of the stigma, so they said it is important for all school staff to know what to look for.