As 2020 comes to a close, we pause, and take a breath.
We recognize that the year’s traumas – COVID-19, the economic crisis, systemic racism, and the deep political divisions that tear at the fabric of our nation – are ongoing, and won’t end with the calendar year. But we also believe it is important to take strength and build resolve from what we have been able to accomplish, collectively, in this most difficult of years.
In this spirit, we offer our annual Year in Review/Accomplishments. We hope you’ll be reminded of what can be done – together – even in the face of overwhelming challenges; discover useful resources you may have missed; and find hope in our common cause of overcoming homelessness through education.
With gratitude to our funders, our SHC family, and you: your support means the world to us, and we thank you for your partnership. Together with you, we will continue to support children, youth, and families through this crisis and work to break generational cycles of homelessness through the power of education.
Your SchoolHouse Connection Team
When early childhood programs and schools across the country shut their doors and turned to remote learning in March 2020, children and youth experiencing homelessness were left without the most stable and secure place in their lives: school.
Less than a week after the national emergency was declared, SchoolHouse Connection brought hundreds of educators together virtually to learn, share, and discover solutions to the unprecedented challenges of helping children and youth who were both homeless and school-less. Since then, we’ve convened thousands of educators, service providers, and advocates in 12 virtual trainings to learn practical strategies and find strength in the community.
You told us the kinds of tools you needed – checklists, guides, PSAs, infographics – and we created them.
You asked us questions based on the real-life situations you faced, and we answered them, compiling our responses in a living public archive so that others could learn.
You let us know about the policy barriers that prevented you from identifying and assisting children, and we advocated for real resources and solutions.
In sum, we put our advocacy principles into practice, even bringing the voices of youth and parents experiencing homelessness before lawmakers to hear directly about the impact of the pandemic and homelessness on their education and their lives.
In this darkest chapter, we brought the light of our passion, our knowledge, and our amazing national network to the aid of some of our nation’s most vulnerable children, youth and families, helping them survive and thrive.
I especially want to thank you for the updated Q&A Inbox – that is one of the ways I’ve learned the most – by reading them. And reading them. And reading them. Over and over because that to me is the true heartbeat of a coast-to-coast team connection.
We reeled at the horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others who lost their lives as a result of systemic racism. These events prompted a reckoning that our mission of overcoming homelessness through education means fighting racism. Systemic racism is a driver of homelessness, as demonstrated by racial disparities in the likelihood of families and youth becoming homeless, in the prolonged harmful consequences of homelessness, and in barriers to accessing education and services.
But we know it takes much more than a statement to create real change. Authentic transformation must be personal, and at all levels of our organization, to be sustained and effective. Internally, we are undertaking a racial justice assessment and year-long training, inclusive of board and staff. Externally, we initiated conversations with local and state McKinney-Vento practitioners of color, and young people of color, about how the McKinney-Vento Act can be implemented as a racial equity tool. We look forward to sharing the lessons and learnings, as well as new resources and tools, in 2021.
1. At a time of hyper-partisanship and deep divide, we advanced a Congressional policy agenda with bipartisan support, including:
- Celebrating the culmination of a decade of consistent, bipartisan advocacy to help youth experiencing homelessness and from foster care access financial aid with the passage of nearly all of the financial aid provisions from Higher Education Access and Student for Homeless and Foster Youth Act (“HEASHFY”) in the final omnibus spending package. Our young leaders have spoken to Congress and federal agency officials repeatedly over the years about the hardships they have faced simply trying to get the financial aid to which they are entitled – and which they need to build a strong future, free of homelessness. These enacted amendments will remove many barriers to financial aid, and help young people achieve their dreams. We look forward to working hard to ensure that the amendments are implemented robustly in the months and years ahead.
- Leading advocacy on four bipartisan bills and federal funding for the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program. SHC’s advocacy is informed by local realities and the direct experiences of youth, families, and the educators and providers who serve them. With their guidance, we pushed for real solutions that address well-documented barriers to education, early care, housing, and homelessness assistance, including four bipartisan bills: the Emergency Family Stabilization Act (H.R. 7950/S. 3923); the Higher Education Access and Success Act for Homeless and Foster Youth Act (S.789/H.R.1724); the Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R. 2001); and the Housing for Homeless Students Act (S. 767/H.R. 4865). We also lead advocacy on federal funding for the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program, which resulted in a 5% increase in FY2021 funding.
- Hosting four bipartisan virtual Congressional briefings. Together with our partners, we hosted four virtual Congressional briefs on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, featuring the real experts: youth experiencing homelessness; parents experiencing homelessness; service providers; and school district homeless education liaisons. By creating a platform for the voices of those most impacted by the crisis to be heard by policymakers, we helped to convey the urgent realities and the urgent need for action.
3. Within days of the 2020 election, we crafted and released our priorities for the incoming Biden-Harris Administration, including specific actions for the first 100 days and beyond. We also added our voices to those of leading education and civil rights organizations, helping to ensure that homelessness is part of the broader education advocacy effort. We look forward to working with the transition team and federal leaders as our nation turns to the daunting tasks of responding, recovering, and rebuilding from the pandemic, with equity at the center of all efforts.
- Bills allowing unaccompanied homeless minors to receive shelter and supportive services on their own in Maryland.
- A bill extending Medicaid to youth experiencing homelessness up to age 21 in Missouri.
- Our California youth scholars were proud to testify in support of the successful enactment of AB 2416, which will help students experiencing homelessness maintain their financial aid.
- Convening over 100 public school districts and charter schools in Colusa, Contra Costa, San Diego counties in California, to help them develop action plans to improve identification, attendance, and high school graduation for students experiencing homelessness, in line with AB 1806.
- Partnering with the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, Nevada Office of Vital Records, and Nevada DMV to deliver a statewide webinar and create user-friendly guides to help youth access their birth certificate, ID and driver’s license at no cost and without a parent, implementing our AB 363.
- Gathering over 100 higher education professionals, school districts, and advocates at a statewide conference in Tennessee, co-hosted with the University of Memphis, Middle Tennessee State University, and Pellissippi State Community College, where we shared best practices and built community awareness to implement our HB 1000, supporting college students experiencing homelessness.
- Collaborating with the Nevada Department of Education on guidance, a webinar, and a practical how-to document to award partial credits to students experiencing homelessness, implementing our SB 147.
Number of State Partnerships on Policy Advocacy in 2021
- Building coalitions, conducting state policy needs assessments, and drafting bill language in 13 states where we will work with our partners on state policy advocacy and implementation in 2021.
- Extending our state policy work in early childhood by partnering with Baker McKenzie and United Airlines to publish a state-by-state summary of state provisions to help children experiencing homelessness access child care and preschool.
- Continuing our work with the National Conference of State Legislatures, including co-presenting with NCSL staff and the Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development on the national webinar “COVID-19: Housing and Homelessness.”
1. Launching a 15-state community of practice as part of the Education Leads Home (ELH) campaign. SHC is a core partner in Education Leads Home, a multi-year, national campaign launched in 2018 to improve educational and life outcomes for students experiencing homelessness. In 2020, with our support, 15 state leadership teams are implementing activities across early childhood, K12, and postsecondary that will result in measurable progress toward ELH goals. Over the course of a year, state teams are making progress on practical needs to increase enrollment in high-quality early childhood programs, increase high school graduation rates, and increase postsecondary persistence and attainment. For example, our partner in Washington state, Building Changes, is developing outreach materials to immigrant and refugee communities so they are aware of their child’s educational rights under McKinney-Vento; North Dakota is establishing a university pilot for identification of students experiencing homelessness on college campuses; and Hawaii is disseminating an early childhood needs assessment, including raising awareness among state legislators.
Number of New Higher Education Resources
Number of SHC Young Leaders who graduated college in 2020
Number of new scholarship awarded
Times we provided emergency assistance
Dollar amount of external scholarships awarded
Dollar amount of direct cash assistance provided
Number of Times SHC Was Quoted in the News
2. We were sought out for our expertise by numerous print, radio, television, and web media, and were quoted in more than 60 stories in 2020, more than twice the coverage of 2019. Our work was highlighted by a broad range of media outlets including in The New York Times, NPR, 60 Minutes, Vice, Reuters, CNN, 74 Million, Education Week, and Chalkbeat, among others. Highlights include:
- An Impossible Choice For Homeless Parents: A Job, Or Their Child’s Education \\\\ NPR – October 7, 2020
- The Children in the Shadows: New York City’s Homeless Students \\\\ The New York Times Magazine – September 9, 2020
- Students Who Are Homeless Need Us Now More Than Ever. And It Starts at the Top. \\\\ Education Post – May 12, 2020
- The Realities of Life for Homeless Students Must Be Part of Remote Learning Strategies During Coronavirus Shutdowns \\\\ The 74 Million – April 14, 2020
- The Coronavirus Class Divide: Space and Privacy \\\\ The New York Times – April 12, 2020
- More Than 1 in 4 Homeless Students Dropped Off Schools’ Radar During the Pandemic \\\\ Education Week –November 25, 2020
3. We found new ways to distribute our resources and communicate our message through social media and web videos, including:
- Launching Medium and Instagram. The Medium page serves as a resource for smart, innovative thinking on solutions to child, youth, and family homelessness. It is a hub of expertise and stories that break down the issue in human terms and make the conversation around solutions more accessible and engaging to broader audiences – including educators, service providers, or community members not as familiar with the issue. Instagram was launched to reach a younger and broader audience, particularly youth experiencing homelessness looking for resources.
- Creating college and COVID videos to share higher education institution best practices of supporting students experiencing homelessness. These videos, along with an editable toolkit, provides practical tips for colleges to reach a broader audience and to better provide support to students.
- Publishing “From the Field: Challenges and Strategies Supporting Children, Youth, and Families,” a video series where we sat down with school district homeless liaisons and other providers from across the nation to share their experiences and tips as they faced the COVID-19 pandemic at the start of the 2020 school year.
- Public Service Announcements: Raising Awareness and Reaching Families and Youth Experiencing Homelessness
- McKinney-Vento Act: Quick Reference
- Preparing for School Reopening and Recovery: Considerations in Serving Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness
- Tips for Helping Homeless Youth Succeed in College
- Young Children Experiencing Homelessness: An Overview
Springing into Action!
– Melissa Peña, Student Services Programs Manager, McKinney-Vento and Foster Youth Liaison, Los Angeles, CA
- Federal Policy Update: Coronavirus Funding and Policy on Child and Youth Homelessness
- FERPA and Students Experiencing Homelessness
- Virtual Conversation with SHC on COVID-19 #2
- Responsive Early Education for Young Children and Families Experiencing Homelessness
- Back to Basics: College Students Experiencing Homelessness
Number of Webinars in 2020
Number of Webinar Registrants
We gain invaluable insights from school district liaisons, state coordinators, service providers and young people. Here are the most viewed essays:
- The Pitfalls of HUD’s Point-in-Time Count
- Stable Homes, Stable Schools: The Imperative of Doing Things Differently
- Supporting Our Students Amidst the Unknown: Evolving Lessons During COVID-19
- Parenting Through Homelessness and COVID-19: The Unfiltered Truth
- Homelessness and the Pandemic: Five Youth Share Insights
Number of Guest Blogs
In-person, Online, or a Combination: Meeting the Needs of McKinney-Vento Students in a Rural School District
Written by Colleen Flanagan, Homeless Liaison, Executive Assistant for Student Support Services, Orting School District, Washington. In Orting, it was clear back in September that a few of our student groups really needed to come back to in-person learning as soon as possible. We began the work to provide priority for in person learning, focusing on two groups. One was our students with IEPs, specifically those with the most significant disabilities and whose families were struggling at home with online schooling. The other group was our McKinney-Vento students.
“I’ve always known I wanted to be an attorney. My mom used to say I decided that at age seven and stuck with it. And it’s true, through being homeless in high school, and working three jobs in undergrad, to half starving my way through law school, I had one goal: become a lawyer. Then I failed that damn bar exam and it broke me. I didn’t mean to let it, but it did. After overcoming so many hardships, this damn test took me down. And the shame… the shame of knowing that I had what it takes to pass, but hadn’t… The shame of watching all of my friends pass. And the loss… the loss of all that I’d thought I’d be.” In this blog, Bréyon Austin shares how she turned the pain of 2020 into triumph.
Number of Newsletters Sent
- Public Schools Report Over 1.5 Million Homeless Children and Youth – All Time Record
- Opportunities for Impact: Child and Youth Homelessness, Schools, and COVID-19
- Charter Schools and Students Experiencing Homelessness: Practices and Recommendations for Success
- Lost in the Masked Shuffle & Virtual Void: Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness Amidst the Pandemic#RealCollege During the Pandemic
- FAFSA & Homeless Youth: Challenges + Recommendations in the COVID-19 Era
13 External Reports on COVID-19, Education, and Homelessness
- COVID-19 Related
- Early Childhood
- K-12 Education
- Higher Education
- Youth Homelessness
- U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Revised Federal Strategic Plan
- State-Specific Reports on Child and Student Homelessness
Compared to last year, FAFSA numbers are down about 9% for all students, providing cause for concern. Now, recently released FAFSA numbers for unaccompanied homeless youth provide early indications of the impact of the pandemic on the higher education prospects of youth experiencing homelessness. These findings demand attention and action.
The National Center for Homeless Education (the U.S. Department of Education’s technical assistance center) recently released a three-year summary of school data on children and youth experiencing homelessness, including the 2018-2019 school year (the most recent school year for which it has compiled data). The data paint a picture of homelessness in our nation’s public schools in the year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing important baseline data and findings that should inform our actions now, as schools move toward reopening and recovery. This new SchoolHouse Connection article describes six of the most salient findings, and their relevance to the pandemic response and recovery.