Supporting Students with Disabilities Experiencing Homelessness

A 2015 report from the National Center for Homeless Education stated that, when compared to their housed peers, students experiencing homelessness:

  • Are three times more likely to have emotional disturbance-related disabilities; 
  • Are four times more likely to have delayed developmental disabilities; and  
  • ​Have twice the rate of learning disabilities. ​

It is important that homeless education liaisons understand the needs of students with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness and support these students in school by providing them stability and consistency.  

The McKinney Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth defines a student experiencing homelessness as a student who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. The student and family experience homelessness due to a hardship or similar reason. 
Homeless education liaisons may be familiar with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). One purpose of IDEA is to ensure that all students with disabilities have available to them a free, appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living. The IDEA can apply to students with

  • Intellectual disabilities;  
  • Hearing impairments (including deafness);  
  • Speech or language impairments;  
  • Visual impairments (including blindness);  
  • Serious emotional disturbance (referred to in this chapter as ‘‘emotional disturbance’’);  
  • Orthopedic impairments;  
  • Autism; 
  • Traumatic brain injury;  
  • Other health impairments or specific learning disabilities; and 
  • ​Special education and related services needs.  

For more information, access the Office for Exceptional Children’s Federal and State Requirements webpage.  

Enrolling Students with Disabilities Experiencing Homelessness

Federal law requires homeless education liaisons to work with enrollment personnel to ensure the immediate enrollment of students experiencing homelessness in school. Students with disabilities experiencing homelessness have unique needs to be considered when facilitating enrollment. For more information about enrolling students experiencing homelessness, access the Identification, Eligibility and Enrollment webpage.  

Ohio law requires the school district of residence to effectively implement a student’s Individual Education Program (IEP). The homeless education liaison at the school district of residence can work with their school district’s special education team to ensure students experiencing homelessness receive special education and related services. The homeless education liaisons can facilitate connections with other school districts if the student enrolls in a different school, especially if the school is transferring documents related to a student’s IEP. For more information about the responsibilities of the district of residence, access the Ensuring Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to its Students with Disabilities document.    

Educational Supports for Students Experiencing Homelessness 

Federal law requires homeless education liaisons to ensure students experiencing homelessness have the educational supports needed to succeed in school. Part of these educational supports include identification and evaluation of needs and providing special education and other related services. Schools and districts may encounter the following scenarios as they work to meet the needs of students with disabilities experiencing homelessness:  

  • Support During Identification and Evaluation of a Child Suspected of Having a Disability

    • Continuing Support: Federal law requires schools and school districts ensure students experiencing homelessness continue to receive their McKinney-Vento supports while going through the special education evaluation process  

    • Lack of Documentation: Families experiencing homelessness may not have all the necessary documentation requested in the evaluation. The homeless education liaison can work with the special education evaluation team and the family to overcome barriers related to documentation and records.  

  • Support for Transferring Students: If a family experiencing homelessness moves and a student transfers to a new district, within the same year, before the school or district finished the student’s special education evaluation, federal law requires both school districts to coordinate and complete the evaluation. This pertains to within or out-of-state transfers. This must occur as expeditiously as possible, consistent with applicable federal regulations. If the IEP is complete, the attendance area school or district (where the student rests their head at night) can decide if they want to adopt the student’s IEP from the school of origin or if they would like to conduct their own special education evaluation.

  • Support After Special Education Evaluation: After the school or district concludes the evaluation, the homeless education liaison can work collaboratively with school or district personnel to ensure that the student receives the support they need according to their IEP. For more information about the duties of the homeless education liaison, access the
    Homeless Education Liaison: Roles and Responsibilities webpage.

For more information about special education evaluations, access Special Education Operating Standards and Guidance.   ​   

Transportation of Students with Disabilities Experiencing Homelessness 

  • Transportation Across School District Lines: Federal law requires that if a student lives in a different attendance area than the school they attend, then personnel from the school of origin’s district and attendance area’s school or district need to agree upon a transportation arrangement and cost sharing. For more information about providing transportation for students experiencing homelessness, access the Transportation of Students Experiencing Homelessness webpage.  

  • Accessible Transportation: Personnel can discuss what vehicle to use to transport a student with a disability experiencing homelessness that would meet their accessibility needs as outlined in their IEP. For more information about accessible transportation for students with disabilities, access Serving Children with Disabilities Eligible for Transportation from the U.S. Department of Education.​​

Unaccompanied Youths with Disabilities Experiencing Homelessness

The McKinney Vento Act defines an unaccompanied youth as a student experiencing homelessness not in the physical custody of a legal guardian. Federal law requires that schools and districts appoint a surrogate parent to act in the best interest of the unaccompanied youth to help guide them through the special education evaluation process including identifying a student as having a disability as well as implementing and adjusting established IEPs 

For more information about unaccompanied youth, access the Unaccompanied Youth FAQ. For more information about surrogate parents, access the Surrogate Parent Training webpage 

Providing Exceptional Support 

Homeless education liaisons can support the exceptional needs of students with disabilities through collaboration. Homeless education liaisons can work with personnel in their school or district and the community to provide supports for students with disabilities experiencing homelessness: 

  • Collaborate with Special Education Coordinator: If a school or district confirms the homelessness eligibility of a student with a disability, then the homeless education liaison can collaborate with the school’s or district’s special education coordinator. Homeless education liaisons can review special education policy to support current and future students with disabilities experiencing homelessness. 

  • Connect with Community Organizations: Homeless education liaisons can work collaboratively with community organizations that support students receiving special education resources. 

  • Confirm Accessibility of Community Partners: Homeless education liaisons can reach out to community partners to confirm the accessibility of these organizations and learn what resources are available for a family experiencing homelessness with a child with a disability. The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio may be able to connect homeless education liaisons with local partners.  
  • Connect with Parent Mentors: Some districts have parent mentors who help families with children with disabilities by providing support, information and training services. Homeless education liaisons can work with parent mentors to help connect families with children with disabilities to access all of the services from which they could benefit. 

Additional Resources 

Last Modified: 8/10/2023 4:15:29 PM