In August 2021, Poverty Solutions at U-M released a Detroit Homelessness and Education Databook that highlighted the educational implications of homelessness and housing instability for students across the state of Michigan. The research also found evidence that Detroit schools were under identifying the number of students experiencing homelessness. This multi-year research project was supported by the McGregor Fund and Skillman Foundation. I developed a communications strategy to accomplish the following goals:
- make new data on homelessness among K-12 students available to key stakeholders and policymakers in the City of Detroit in order to improve program planning and services, and
- raise awareness of the issue of homelessness and its educational impacts, especially the connections between homelessness and chronic absenteeism, graduation and dropout rates, and school discipline rates.
In addition to copy editing the 72-page databook to prepare it for print production, I identified the target audiences for the databook release as K-12 educators, especially school homeless liaisons; homelessness service providers; parents of K-12 students; and school board members and state policymakers, who have influence over school discipline and attendance policies that disproportionately penalize students experiencing homelessness. Working closely with the senior research associate leading the data analysis, I developed messaging to communicate the value of the databook and its key findings to each of the target audiences.
I then took the following steps to implement the communications strategy, timed with the start of a new school year:
- Created an online presence for the databook on the department website and pursued digital marketing avenues to share the databook, including social media and an email newsletter;
- Wrote a press release aimed at Detroit news outlets, plus developed pitches tailored to education reporters in other parts of the state with high rates of student homelessness. This resulted in coverage from 11 news outlets, including Chalkbeat Detroit, Detroit Free Press, WXYZ 7 Detroit, WDET public radio in Detroit, The Alpena News, and Traverse City Record Eagle; and
- Proposed a virtual panel discussion on student homelessness in Detroit, co-hosted with Chalkbeat Detroit. I assisted with planning and promotion of the panel discussion, which was moderated by a Chalkbeat editor and featured the senior research associate who led the databook project, two Detroit educators, a Detroit service provider who works with youth experiencing homelessness, and a Detroit teen who shared insights from her first-hand experiences with housing instability.