Youth Resource

Does My Living Situation Meet the Definition of Homelessness?

A number of federal laws help to remove barriers to K-12 education, early childhood education, child care, and higher education (including financial aid). All of these education laws use the same definition of homelessness. This resource is designed to help you see if you meet this definition of homelessness, and if so, how you can access education and other resources.

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The Definition of Homelessness for Early Care and Education

Under the education subtitle of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the term “homeless children and youth” means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. This specifically includes children and youth whose living situations fall into one of the categories below.

Additional Definitions

Temporarily Staying with Other People

If you lost your home or had to leave your home and you are now staying with someone temporarily because you don’t have anywhere else to go, you meet the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness. This can include a variety of specific situations, but it comes down to this: if you are staying with someone temporarily, and that person could ask you to leave at any time, your living situation likely meets the definition of homelessness.

Staying in Emergency or Transitional Shelters

If you are living in a shelter or another form of emergency housing, you meet the McKinney-Vento Act definition of homelessness. This can include domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, youth shelters, trailers provided by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), housing paid for by programs such as Rapid Re-Housing, transitional living facilities, etc.

Staying in Motels, Campgrounds, Cars, Parks, Abandoned Buildings, Bus or Train Stations, or any Public or Private Place not Designed for Humans to Live in

If you are staying in a hotel, motel, camping ground, car, or any place outside/not meant for human habitation, your living situation meets the McKinney-Vento Act’s definition of homelessness.

Staying in Substandard Housing

Substandard housing is housing that poses a serious risk to the health, safety, or physical well-being of occupants. Examples of living in substandard housing can include inadequate sanitation, lack of water, lack of heating, unhealthy infestation of vermin or pests, fire and structural hazards, unsafe ventilation, and inadequate weather protection. If you are living in housing that doesn’t meet local building codes, or the utilities are turned off, it is generally not adequate, and you likely meet the definition of homelessness.

Resources for PreK-12 Students

If your situation falls into one of the categories above, you have a right to go to school and to receive help with your education. Every K-12 school district is required to have a staff position called a McKinney-Vento liaison. This person is required to help students experiencing homelessness. If you are not yet experiencing homelessness, but you fear you may soon be, the liaison may still be able to help connect you to resources and help to ensure you can continue attending school. Here are some of the things your liaison can help with:

How to Contact your McKinney-Vento School District Liaison

Your school or district website may have a page that provides information about the McKinney-Vento Act and you may find your liaison’s email or phone number there. It may be helpful to search the words “liaison” or “McKinney-Vento” on the school website as you look for these pages. The liaison is there to help you and can be an important resource to help you succeed at school. You also can talk with a trusted teacher, guidance counselor, principal, or other staff member who can help you get in touch with your liaison.

Resources for College Students

If you are experiencing homelessness in college, help may be available on your college campus. Resources vary by campus, but a good place to start is by browsing your university website or talking with a trusted faculty or staff member. Some colleges have programs specifically designed to help students experiencing homelessness, while others may have resources that are available to all students in need.

Additional Resources

For additional resources and to learn about navigating topics such as FAFSA, student loans, accessing basic needs resources, buying a car, and much more, visit our Youth Resources Page.