Much More Needs to be Done to House Homeless Students

A report by Civic Enterprises and Hart Research Associates, Hidden in Plain Sight: Homeless Students in America’s Public Schools, analyzes the increase in housing instability among children in public schools. The McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act was passed thirty years ago to provide infrastructure and supports to homeless families with children, but much more needs to be done to assist the more than 1 million school-aged (K-12) students experiencing homelessness. The report details the scope of mental and physical health challenges homeless students face, issues that are largely unseen and ineffectively addressed by school support services. Schools are inadequately connecting homeless students to housing.

The authors conducted telephone focus groups with McKinney-Vento state coordinators for the education of homeless children and youth and with McKinney-Vento district liaisons, and they administered a quantitative online survey to 504 district liaisons. The district liaisons serve as the facilitators between homeless families, school district staff, and other service providers. The state coordinators provide technical assistance to districts and cooperate with the U.S. Department of Education to assess the educational needs of homeless youth. Forty-four interviews were also conducted with currently homeless youth in cities and in rural areas, where much less is known about homelessness and where resources can be more difficult to access. The researchers also surveyed 158 previously homeless 18-24 year-olds.

Only 29% of the district liaisons believed their schools were doing a good job of connecting homeless students to housing. Ninety percent of liaisons reported that they work in another capacity other than as homeless liaisons within their school district, and 89% said they spend less than half of their working hours on their homeless liaison responsibilities. Just 69% of liaisons reported they had worked with shelters, transitional housing or local and city government agencies and programs. When asked to identify the biggest obstacles they face, liaisons pointed to the lack of government and community resources for homelessness programs, shelters, services. The greatest obstacle, they said, “is a lack of affordable housing.”

Sixty-seven percent of formerly homeless youth reported they were uncomfortable talking with people at their schools about their housing issues and related challenges. Only 25% of youth believed their schools were doing a good job of connecting them to housing, the lack of which affects their success in school. Forty-two percent of youth surveyed said they have at one or more times dropped out of school, often due to the difficulty of establishing proof of residency when switching schools or re-enrolling.

The report calls for providing safe, stable housing for all homeless students, in a similar way that school breakfasts and lunches are provided to low income students. Increased public funding is needed to establish host home programs, school partnerships with housing agencies, and other innovative efforts to ensure homeless youth can access existing housing assistance. The authors argue that increased investments in decent, affordable housing and the support services needed to connect students to this housing are needed to ensure each student has the ability to succeed and excel.

The full report can be accessed at: