Public Schools & Higher Education
Transitioning to a New Housing-Centered Framework
The Housing Challenge
There is increasing understanding of the detrimental impacts of housing instability on children, youth, and families on educational outcomes. Although many public school systems have an extensive array of student services geared to supporting children’s achievements in school, these services do not generally focus on where or how a student might be living.
Although some Homeless Education Programs actively coordinate student services with referrals to Continuums of Care, the focus is primarily ensuring that students experiencing homelessness have equal access to education, including remaining in home schools. Other student families may be living in overcrowded rental units with relatives or friends or be struggling each month to pay the rent or buy groceries.
Another example is the national initiative to decrease school absenteeism in order to improve education outcomes. School personnel often blame the student or dysfunctional family dynamics when the intervention that might be most successful would be a stable place to live.
The Rationale for “Housing Coordinators” in Schools
Classroom teachers and teaching assistants are often the first to become aware of indicators of housing instability among the students in their classes. School social workers and school nurses regularly confront families experiencing forced displacement, health impacts from mold, bedbugs, and other unhealthy housing conditions, and behavior that may correlate directly with overcrowded living conditions.
In the ideal situation, a Housing Coordinator with the knowledge and expertise to address such issues would be available to follow up. An experienced Housing Coordinator would work together with school social workers or counselors to identify the extent and type of problem the student and his/her/their family might be experiencing and facilitate the provision of appropriate housing interventions.
The federal Full-Service Community Schools (FSCS) program provides support for the operation of schools that improve the coordination, integration, accessibility, and effectiveness of services for children and families.The FSCS focus is on children attending high-poverty schools, including high-poverty rural schools.
This is a good model to scale up. Although indicators of housing instability could be relatively prevalent in such schools, however, there is not yet a strategic focus on housing instability. Particularly in schools with comprehensive services, a Housing Coordinator would provide the specialized expertise and knowledge of resources that are generally difficult to address in today’s housing climate.
Community Colleges & Universities
The siting of Housing Coordinators at community colleges and universities would help to ensure that students experiencing housing instability are linked with appropriate resources and services. Some students who are eligible for assistance through HUD are simply not aware. When the resources and services do not exist, a Housing Interventions Response Team, would evaluate the gaps and develop new programs and services to address to those gaps.
Differing Definitions of Homelessness
Two distinct definitions of homelessness are utilized in federal government programs. Public school systems are federally mandated by the US Department of Education (DE) to ensure that students who meet the US DE definition of homelessness are identified and that they attend school and receive other types of support.
Unfortunately, there is no federal mandate that students who do not meet the US Department of Housing and Urban Development definition of homelessness have access to homeless services, including referrals for enrollment in Rapid Rehousing programs.
Even when a student’s family may qualify for HUD’s definiition of homelessness, there is not mandate that they be referred to Rapid Rehousing programs or Homeless Prevention programs funded through HUD. Particularly in large cities, public school systems may not coordinate Homeless Education Programs directly with homeless Continuums of Care.
Problems with the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Program
Homeless Education Programs in many localities coordinate closely with homeless family services, including co-location at coordinated entry systems and at family services organizations. A Housing Coordinator could assist student families with targeted housing-based interventions when they are deemed not eligible for HUD’s Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing programs.
Working with Homeless Services
Our experiences in the LA Promise Zone with student homelessness have identified some common challenges that may require more targeted and collaborative problem-solving. Data from public schools and early childhood programs reveal ongoing and often significant increases in family homelessness; differing definitions of homelessness prevent families from accessing homelessness prevention and rapid rehousing programs.
In the LA Promise Zone, the majority of homeless students enrolled in the federally-funded Homeless Education Program are living with another family or relative temporarily and are not referred for Rapid Rehouisng Programs if they are not already enrolled.
Housing Coordinators working with the federal Homeless Education Program in schools can help to qualify families in shared housing for Rapid Rehousing programs and also assist families who are not eligible in stabilizing their current housing situations.
Many families unable to secure a lease or maintain rental housing on their own are fortunate enough to move in with extended family. Particularly when relatives own a home with space to accommodate additional residents, such arrangements may be highly successful in helping a family through a housing crisis.
Unfortunately, moving in with family or friends during a housing crisis is often the precursor to entering the family shelter system. Public schools are often the primary mainstream system that all school-age children and their parents interact with. Schools are therefore often the only point-of-contact with possible assistance that families experiencing housing instability may have access to.
While schools are federally-mandated to ensure that children in families experiencing homelessness are enrolled in and attending school, there appears to be little incentive or guidance on helping families to access stable housing of their own.
For more information on national initiatives to ensure equitable access to education for children & youth experiencing homelessness:
The Schoolhouse Connection
The National Center
for Homeless Education
McKinney-Vento Education for
Homeless Children and Youth