A new report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) underscores the value of providing permanent affordable housing as a strategy to counter homelessness, particularly among families with school-age children. Using data from the Washington State Council on Coordinated Transportation collected between 2004 and 2006, the report compares the estimated costs of transporting homeless students to their schools with the costs of providing housing vouchers. The report concludes that expanding access to affordable housing is a cost effective response to family homelessness.
The number of homeless students across the country rose to nearly one million in 2010, a 38% increase since 2006. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, passed by Congress in 1987, stipulates that school districts must continue to serve students when they become homeless. School districts are obligated to transport homeless children who move outside of school district boundaries, even at an additional cost. With the number of homeless students rising during the recession, school districts are straining to cover the costs of transportation.
According to NLCHP estimates, bus transport for homeless students costs approximately $13,775 per student each year, based on figures self-reported by eight school districts in Washington state. NLCHP then estimates that covering the costs of transporting two children from one family can be upwards of $18,000 to $27,550, annually. In contrast, NLCHP calculates that a housing voucher can cost less than $12,000 a year in the Seattle Housing Authority’s jurisdiction, significantly less than the costs of providing transportation. Based on these figures, the authors reason that housing vouchers are a cost-effective way to address homelessness.
NLCHP recommends the formation of partnerships between school districts and public housing agencies as a compelling strategy to provide homeless students with long term stability. As an example, two school districts in the Tacoma, Washington, area are cited for their work collaborating with a local housing nonprofit, Helping Hand House. In Tacoma, counselors work within schools to mitigate the negative impact of housing instability and homelessness on child development and provide rental assistance. School districts partnering with affordable housing providers can expand access to housing while minimizing the fiscal and social costs of rising homelessness.
The report, Beds Not Buses: Housing vs. Transportation for Homeless Students, can be found on the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s webpage at: http://www.nlchp.org/content/pubs/HousingvTransport.pdf