Students Experiencing Homelessness

Students Experiencing Homelessness

District Support for Students Experiencing Homelessness for the Reset and Restart of Ohio’s Schools

As districts and schools plan for reset and restart, Ohio’s students experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable. Students experiencing homelessness lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence and reside in shelters, hotels, campgrounds, doubled up or living in an overcrowded situation where more people inhabit a space than is considered healthy or safe. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act requires schools and districts to be diligent in identifying and serving homeless students
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more students and families likely will experience homelessness. It is critical for districts and schools to support the needs of these students by establishing procedures that ensure equitable access to educational experiences and whole child supports. This page provides guidance and resources on supporting students experiencing homelessness, as districts and schools reset and restart the school year. This page is a companion to the Ohio Department of Education’s Reset and Restart page.

This page covers the following areas for districts and schools to consider:  

Identification and Enrollment of Students Experiencing Homelessness

Identification and immediate enrollment are critical first steps in providing an equitable educational experience for students experiencing homelessness. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread job loss, health complications and unstable housing, leaving many more families and children homeless or at risk of homelessness. The number of students meeting the eligibility criteria of homelessness now may be greater and more challenging to identify. As schools reset and restart in 2020-2021, identification and enrollment have increased importance and added challenge.
Students experiencing homelessness must be immediately enrolled in school and afforded the opportunity to meaningfully participate in academic and extracurricular activities. Enrollment means attending classes either remotely, face to face or through a hybrid model. Consider the following suggestions and enrollment and identification strategies.

Awareness and Identification
  • Distribute homeless education posters throughout the district and in the community. Widely publicize contact information.   
  • Remind teachers of the definition of homelessness and ways to contact their district or school’s homeless liaisons to inform them of a student’s homeless status. Teachers communicate directly with families. They are working with students via remote or blended learning and can be the first to learn a student is in need. Often, students will self-identify as homeless to a trusted adult. Teachers are often those adults.
  • Reach out to partners in the community that support homeless families to obtain current information about homeless numbers and residence locations including, but not limited to shelters, campgrounds, hotels and doubled-up situations.
  • Ensure enrollment documents and/or services are available in multiple languages.
  • Offer translation and interpretation services for families to assist in the enrollment process. The Department’s Reset and Restart Page for Administrators Serving Linguistically Diverse Families contains a section on translation and interpretation services.
  • Facilitate liaisons visiting shelters to enroll students or set up group enrollment sessions at local libraries and community centers.
  • Consider providing additional support, time and personnel for liaison activities.
  • Use multiple modalities to reach students and families eligible for McKinney-Vento services, including phone calls, emails, mail, school district websites and social media accounts and appropriate and safe in-person visits that comply with public health guidelines.
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The Role of the Homeless Liaison

Districts must have a homeless liaison. Homeless liaisons are responsible for identifying homeless students and coordinating services and supports with all district personnel who interact with students and families. Liaisons also educate the public on homeless rights and services. It also is important for families experiencing homelessness, child welfare agencies and the community to know how to reach the homeless liaison. This section provides strategies and examples of service coordination activities liaisons can provide for their students. It also includes information about how to update homeless liaison information.
Service Coordination
  • Coordinate with local community partners such as food banks and housing agencies to support the needs of families.
  • Provide academic coaching or mentoring for homeless youth. These students often lack positive adult relationships. Coaches and mentors can prove vital in their academic and social development.
  • Collaborate with shelter providers and other caregivers and create a communication plan to serve students’ needs, including distribution of school supplies, electronic devices and hygiene products.
  • Organize transportation services to minimize unnecessary travel to and from school sites, shelters and other residences.
Outreach and Communication
  • Arrange check-in times with families and accommodate the schedules of homeless families who may have limited access to physical space (such as those staying in shelters).
  • Establish a communication system with staff, building principals and teachers to ensure supports and services are being provided. Create user-friendly websites or social media sites to support all students, not just students experiencing homelessness.
  • Maintain current homeless liaison contact information in the Department’s Ohio Educational Directory System (OEDS). If the contact information for the district homeless liaison requires updating, reach out to the districtwide OEDS administrator. Also, find instructions for updating information in OEDS on the Department’s website. 
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Access to Educational Programs

Students who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence often live in conditions not conducive for completing schoolwork. Below are strategies and suggestions for districts to consider related to providing equitable access to educational programming.
  • Prioritize students experiencing homelessness when distributing electronic devices and access to Wi-Fi, as they are less likely to possess personal technology.
  • Provide transportation to families who cannot pick up devices. Alternatively, mail or deliver devices to families. Students and families may not have access to transportation and may be reluctant to utilize public transportation due to health and cost concerns.
  • Prioritize homeless students for access to in-person learning opportunities when possible.
  • Partner with community providers, such as libraries and Boys and Girls Clubs, to identify ways to safely provide space for homeless students to work in an environment that is conducive to learning. Homeless students living in shelters may not be permitted to stay in the shelters during school hours to complete academic work.
  • Provide and promote either in-person or virtual tutoring to homeless students who are struggling academically. Schedule such sessions at times when homeless students can access technology and physical spaces conducive to learning.
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Response to Trauma During Reset and Restart

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a traumatic experience for a large percentage of the population and may have compounded existing traumas for students and families experiencing homelessness.  Students may feel disconnected from the school community because school buildings closed abruptly last school year. They may need opportunities to build positive relationships with staff and other students. Positive relationships improve people’s outlook on life and can help students build stronger connections to their school and their peers. The following recommendations and resources relate to using a trauma-informed approach.
  • Mental and Behavioral Health Screening: Schools should take proactive steps to screen students for mental and behavioral health needs when school restarts. This can be done virtually or in person. It is important that districts and schools collaborate with professional mental health providers for screening services.
  • Training on Trauma-Informed Strategies: Staff and teachers can benefit from training on trauma-informed practices. Below are links to online trainings and other resources related to trauma.
    • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network Resource Page provides a wide range of materials, webinars and other resources in multiple languages.
    • The Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network provides a toolkit to support mental health for students and staff. It also has a recorded webinar about strategies for reopening schools with optimism.
  • Other Supports: Other trauma-informed activities that districts and schools should consider include:
    • Providing mental health education for all students, with the goal of building a trauma-informed, supportive school environment. Providing a baseline level of mental health understanding for all students can foster a supportive environment for students who have experienced trauma, particularly students experiencing homelessness.
    • Involving school social workers, counselors, nurses and community mental health professionals to provide added support for students experiencing homelessness, either virtually or in person.
    • Implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports to aid students transitioning back into the learning environment, either virtually, in person or in a blended model. Punitive measures can exacerbate trauma and contradict a supportive school environment. 
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Funding Options to Support Students Experiencing Homelessness 

Students attending Title I-eligible buildings may receive services through building programs offered to all Title I students. In Title I schools, all homeless students are considered Title I-eligible students and, therefore, are eligible for services. This also holds true for students who are homeless but not attending Title I eligible buildings. Homeless students are eligible for Title I services and these services may go beyond what is usually provided, depending on circumstances.
Given the level of need of homeless students, districts may consider budgeting more in their Title I set-aside for homeless students. The Title I set-aside amount is the amount districts set aside to serve students who attend non-Title I-served buildings in the district or to provide homeless services or programs across the district to eligible students.  
 Allowable uses of funds for students experiencing homelessness include, but are not limited to:
Title IA
  • Staffing to coordinate educational and community services for students;
  • Staffing to provide additional educational supports for students who have missed instruction for long periods of time or have areas in their education they missed due to transitioning;
  • Clothing;
  • Personal and school supplies such as backpacks and notebooks;
  • Food for students when they are not attending school, such as weekend backpacks;
  • Medical and dental services;
  • Counseling services;
  • Outreach services to area agencies;
  • Parent engagement and outreach;
  • Obtaining documents required for student enrollment and records, such as birth certificates;
  • Excess transportation costs;
  • Assisting students with completing college applications and the FAFSA;
  • Emergency situations and when other district/community resources are not available.
Title IIA
  • Professional development for staff on recognizing signs of homelessness and effective strategies for homeless students and families.           
Title IV-A 
  • Clothing;
  • Food for students when they are not attending school. such as weekend backpacks;
  • Medical and dental services;
  • Counseling services;
  • Outreach services to area agencies;
Funding from the U.S. Department of Education has been used to support 20 districts to serve as homeless service and resource providers. Districts that have received these funds serve as a resource for neighboring districts. Local liaisons can communicate with liaisons from these districts for information about best practices and ways to support students experiencing homelessness.

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Resources to Support Students Experiencing Homelessness

Resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Homeless liaisons and other school personnel who support students and families experiencing homelessness will find guidance and resources related to COVID-19. 
Resources from the Schoolhouse Connection 
Strategies for safety, services and learning to support students and families experiencing homelessness. 
FAQ from the School Health Connection
This is a useful tool to begin addressing the unique challenges faced by students and families experiencing homelessness.
Resources from the National Center for Homeless Education 
This is information from the federal government regarding services to support students and families experiencing homelessness. 
Resources from United States Interagency Council on Homelessness 
This document includes questions districts should consider when planning to support students and families experiencing homelessness for the reset and restart of school.

Questions regarding serving students experiencing homelessness?

Call the Ohio Department of Education's Office for Integrated Student Supports at (614) 387-7725
or send an email to the Homeless Education Inbox.

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Last Modified: 9/23/2020 9:08:25 AM