Hope for a Brighter Future
Education is a powerful key in breaking the cycle of homelessness
experienced by youth in the United States. Since 1999, the
National Association for the Education of Homeless Children
and Youth (NAEHCY) has recognized successful high school students
wishing to pursue higher education. These LeTendre Scholars
frequently remind us that the work we do in schools changes
the lives of children. They tell us that education will lead
to a future of promise and hope.
The term “homeless” conjures images of adults
living on the street, under bridges, or abandoned buildings;
however, a growing subpopulation of homelessness is families
with children and older youth. The McKinney-Vento Homeless
Assistance Act, Title X, Part C of the No Child Left Behind
Act defines which students should be considered homeless and
includes youth “who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate
nighttime residence” and may be living doubled up with
friends or relatives, living in shelters, cars, abandoned buildings,
or other substandard housing. Recent estimates suggest over
two million individuals will experience homelessness in the
U.S. each year. Approximately half will be youths. The most
recent U.S. Department of Education Report to Congress for
fiscal year 2000 stated more than 866,000 youths were identified
as homeless during the 1999-2000 school year; 87 percent of
the reported school age children were enrolled in school and
67 percent attended regularly; the rate of enrollment for preschoolers
was 15 percent.
The McKinney-Vento Act ensures these students have access
to an appropriate education. Every school district must assign
a local homeless education liaison who is responsible for identifying
homelessness, providing training to school personnel, and coordinating
with other service providers to assist families and youth in
accessing both school and community resources.
Because these youths move frequently and may not have access
to all their school records, they must be immediately enrolled
in school, even if normally-required documentation is missing.
To alleviate the impact of multiple moves, homeless students
have the right to remain in their school of origin. To provide
this school stability, districts must provide transportation
to school. Anecdotally, liaisons note that children who
stay in one school all year outperform those attending three
or four different schools.
Homelessness is being addressed in other federal legislation,
as well. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
will require state level coordination between homeless and
special education programs and local efforts to lessen the
impact of moves on providing special education services. Head
Start legislation and the Higher Education Act have proposed
changes to improve access to educational services for homelessness.
Head Start proposalso would ensure immediate enrollment to
Head Start programs. Finally, housing legislation, such as
the proposed Bring America Home Act would align definitions
of homelessness across agencies.
In addition to the services education can provide, increasing
the pool of affordable housing and strengthening the coordination
of support agencies to form a stronger safety net for homeless
and precariously housed families and youth are critical to
reducing the incidence of homelessness now faced by too many
of our students.#
Patricia Popp is the President of the National Association
for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth and the State
Coordinator for Project HOPE, VA.