Higher Education, State Policy

Innovation in Illinois: New Law and Funding Supports Homeless and Foster Youth in Higher Education

Designating homeless higher education liaisons is recognized as a best practice for supporting students experiencing homelessness, as well as students with experience in foster care. Similar to their K-12 counterparts, homeless higher education liaisons help identify and support students experiencing homelessness, and connect them to services and resources. However, unlike McKinney-Vento liaisons, there is currently no federal law requiring these individuals at higher education institutions.

Tips for Homeless Higher Education Liaisons

This resource contains basic strategies for homeless higher education liaisons. It also includes tip sheets specifically for states that have enacted laws that allow or require the designation of homeless higher education liaisons.

State Laws for Higher Education Liaisons: Requirements and Responsibilities

A number of states have enacted laws that require or encourage the appointment of higher education liaisons; in addition, some states have informal networks of homeless higher education liaisons. Each state law is unique; some include a very general statement about the responsibilities of the liaison, while others include specific requirements, such as a requirement to post contact information on the institution’s website. 

Innovation in Illinois

Thanks to vigorous advocacy by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Illinois is among the most recent states to enact a state law on homelessness and higher education: The Higher Education Housing and Opportunities Act (Public Act 102-0083).

“The Higher Education Housing and Opportunities Act (Public Act 102-0083) aims to address the needs of homeless students and students in foster care on college and university campuses by establishing the role of ‘Housing and Opportunities that are Useful for Students’ Excellence’ (HOUSE) liaisons as an advocate and resource for homeless students, improving the accessibility and affordability of on-campus housing, and requiring universities and colleges to track and report data on the number of students experiencing homelessness and students in foster care to the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) and the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB). To support the work of HOUSE liaisons, In the fall of 2022, IBHE offered grants of up to $50,000 to public and private nonprofit institutions of higher education through the End Student Housing Insecurity (ESHI) grant. The ESHI Grant funding originated from Illinois’ Department of Human Services to fund pilot programs at higher education institutions to meet the needs of homeless students. The grant’s term is short—only January through June 2023, but priority was given to institutions that fostered collaboration among campus units and community organizations. The grant’s primary goal is to support HOUSE liaisons in their newly created role, as well as address homelessness in holistic and transformational ways that allows students to focus on their degrees. In December 2022, IBHE announced there were 11 grant recipient institutions. Subject to further appropriation by the Illinois General Assembly, IBHE hopes to offer additional grants to higher education institutions in FY 2024. For these competitive grants, priority will be given to proposals that foster collaboration and innovation among institutions to address the root causes of homelessness.”
— Ashley Lewis, Policy Researcher Associate, Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE)

In addition to providing funding, Illinois is seeking to provide training and professional development to HOUSE liaisons. SchoolHouse Connection will be assisting in providing training and professional development through our Homeless Higher Education Liaison Network.