Lack of stable, safe, affordable housing and lack of transportation are persistent barriers confronting service providers and advocates working to help youth and young adults experiencing homelessness and their families. These problems exist in urban, suburban, and rural communities alike. Few, if any, states have enough affordable housing units to meet the needs of their residents, including those experiencing homelessness. School districts also commonly struggle to provide homeless students with the transportation services required by the McKinney-Vento Act that are essential to their enrollment, attendance, and success in school.
SchoolHouse Connection works with stakeholders across the U.S. to explore policy solutions and innovative strategies to address the challenges they face in trying to help young people end their homelessness. There is no single solution, and each state has its own set of variables to manage. But one thing that has become clear to us is that we can provide our partners with some tools that they might find helpful in their work. We have begun to do just that here.
SHC has compiled tools, research, and examples to highlight for school district homeless liaisons, housing specialists, transportation coordinators, community organizations, advocates, policymakers and others interested in better supporting students experiencing homelessness. These resources are intended to help inform strategies for policy change, program development, resource management, and other measures for addressing the transportation and housing dilemmas affecting children and youth experiencing homelessness in school districts and communities across the country. SHC will continue to update the resources found here, and we welcome your recommendations.
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In March 2021, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Homeless Children and Youth (ARP-HCY) Fund (i) — providing educators $800 million to support the identification, enrollment, and school participation of children and youth experiencing homelessness, including through wrap-around services. ARP-HCY funding is allowing states to creatively address the needs of these students in ways they could not at the prior funding level. Some districts have used their ARP-HCY money to tackle the problems students experiencing homelessness and their families have with housing and transportation. SHC has been lifting up good examples from around the U.S. and sharing them on our website, which we update periodically.
(i) U.S Department of Education, Office of School Support and Accountability (2021). American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Homeless Children and Youth (ARP-HCY) Fund
Housing & Related Services
A number of state legislatures across the political spectrum are looking for solutions to what has become a nationwide shortage of affordable housing. In addition, some states have begun to recognize and address the unique challenges youth experiencing homelessness face.In addition to addressing housing challenges, we recognize that effectively addressing homelessness requires addressing multiple contributing issues. The quest for these solutions should begin with homeless children and include students from pre-K through to higher education and into adulthood. It should include the communities that are urban, suburban, and rural, recognizing the struggle to access housing is not confined to any particular type of community.
Below we highlight pilots and other proposals to provide critical services and support young people experiencing homelessness need to achieve stability.
Maine: Housing Voucher and Site-Based Services (Proposed)
The Maine legislature is considering bills that would establish a housing voucher program and provide site-based services for homeless students in elementary school and secondary school (LD 1422) (ii). Similarly, LD 1609 (iii) would make funds available directly to school leaders and homeless liaisons to meet critical needs of students and their families. Liaisons could quickly help stabilize families without them having to navigate housing and supportive systems that typically prove to be cumbersome and frustrating.
Minnesota: Funding for Shelter for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth (Enacted)
Unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness lack one of the most critical prerequisites for accessing many emergency or long-term housing supports – a parent or guardian who can consent on their behalf. The lack of a parental figure can often be a barrier to enrolling in school, receiving medical care, getting vital documents, and consenting to shelter or other supportive services.
Minnesota has recognized these barriers and embraced the agency of unaccompanied homeless youth by enacting laws to help address these barriers.
Minnesota state statute 256K.45 (iv), codified in 2022 (v), creates a Homeless Youth Act (HYA) Fund that provides incentives for providers who offer services to unaccompanied homeless youth. Emergency shelter access is one provision of the HYA. Emergency shelter programs are required to assist unaccompanied youth with temporary shelter, including meals and medical care, and can assist with family reunification if appropriate. Transitional living programs are also required to help youth with housing and supportive services, and help youth find stable, safe, and dignified housing. The HYA is facilitated through grants of up to $200,000 for repairs and improvements of facilities that support unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness.
Massachusetts: Rental Assistance for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth (Proposed)
HB1385 (vi), which is pending in the Massachusetts legislature, provides various populations, including unaccompanied homeless youth, the ability to apply for rental and housing assistance. Including unaccompanied youth in this bill grants them the agency to live independently and sustain that self-sufficiency.
Introduced in 2023, also in Massachusetts, is HD216 (vii), which aims to implement a statewide flexible, supportive housing subsidy pool program. This bill increases the capacity of organizations to serve individuals, families, and youth experiencing homelessness. This bill recognizes the need to weave together homelessness solutions that are inclusive of long-term housing, supportive services, and rental assistance. The programs that receive funding through this act would prioritize individuals, families, youth, and young adults experiencing homelessness.
Additionally, Massachusetts lawmakers are proposing S.895, which will increase the funding and availability of affordable housing in the state (viii). Creating sustainable, affordable housing through this bill would feed into the rental and housing assistance provisions for unaccompanied youth mentioned above in HB1385.
Texas: Funding for Homeless Housing and Prevention (Proposed)
When considering the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the housed and homeless alike, states must plan ahead to ensure that homelessness is not exacerbated or caused by shifts in economic status. Texas HB780 (ix) and HB912 (x), respectively, aim to administer homeless housing services in every applicable municipality in the state and especially seeks to fund programs that prevent homelessness resulting from displacement due to economic development activities. Both funding and availability of housing programs protect youth experiencing homelessness from remaining homeless and without the ability to meet basic needs.
Oregon: Supporting Host Homes (Enacted)
Legislators in Oregon approved a large appropriations bill (SB 2001) (xi) that includes continued funding for a host home program passed initially in 2021 legislation (xii) to help children K-12 and their families who are at risk of becoming homeless better access shelter, care and support, and provide grants for host home projects for youth experiencing homelessness.
Pennsylvania: Land Banking (Enacted)
Land banking is a concept that is becoming an increasingly prominent component of development policy in state legislatures. Land banks are quasi-public organizations that acquire and hold abandoned or blighted properties and land. Though these purchases are often made without an official development plan in mind, most land banks aim to redevelop the property or land to return it to productive community use. With youth homelessness in mind, land banking is an innovative solution that can be used to address housing development.
Land banking has the potential to provide long-term stability, security, and improved quality of life for youth experiencing homelessness by providing them with safe, affordable, and stable housing options.
Pennsylvania is one such state that acknowledges the value of land banking as a housing solution for homelessness. Passed in November 2022, HB 2209 cites land banking as a critical solution to address the issue of lack of housing for homeless individuals in the state.
Youth experiencing homelessness are often overlooked in the big picture of redevelopment. By reimagining land banking as a solution to housing for youth and young adults, we can make an irrefutable investment in their futures – creating more affordable housing options for the population.
In areas where youth homelessness is high, land banks have the potential to ensure that effective housing solutions for unhoused young people work in tandem with community development and investment.
Over the past few years, state legislatures have been actively supporting access to and success in postsecondary education for students experiencing homelessness. Such supports address issues like homeless liaisons, fee and tuition waivers, and priority access to on-campus housing, including during college breaks.
Texas: Pilot Program for Transitional Housing (Proposed)
Texas HB912 (xiii) would provide money from the Ending Homelessness Fund to operate a pilot program to increase the availability of transitional housing in municipalities with large populations. Texas has multiple pieces of pending legislation that would bolster access and funding for transitional housing. Consider that legislators are also proposing another pilot program that would support additional funding. Texas HB834 (xiv) provides a creative pathway to funding through a text-to-support donation pilot program that would collect private donations to benefit local programs that provide services to homeless individuals and families in the same municipalities eligible for housing programs (xv).
Students experiencing homelessness often change living arrangements, which can disrupt their education and cause attendance and academic performance. In response, the McKinney-Vento Act requires school districts to provide transportation to maintain school stability for children and youth experiencing homelessness and to remove transportation barriers to participation in school activities. While vital, providing transportation can be challenging, especially given the challenges of mobility, lengthy commuting distances, driver shortages, and traversing district boundaries.
In 2022, SHC released Meeting the Transportation Needs of Students Experiencing Homelessness in the Pandemic and Beyond, to share strategies with educators across the country. Providing transportation for students experiencing homelessness eliminates one of the most often cited barriers to their school enrollment and regular attendance.
Below are state policy strategies for addressing common transportation challenges.
Oklahoma: Out-of-Boundary Transportation (Proposed)
HB2314 (xvi), recently introduced, amends existing law to expand and authorize transportation for students who live outside the boundaries set by the education department, including transfer and charter school students.
The bill also removes financial penalties that were once applied to school districts that provided transportation outside of district boundaries.
Minnesota: Transportation Reimbursement (Proposed)
HF 994 in Minnesota aims to address the issue of cost by introducing applications for state aid to reimburse districts for costs incurred while providing transportation to students. (xvii)
As of April 3, 2023, Minnesota also introduced SF3225 (xviii), which would amend two sections of the Minnesota Statutes 2022 to provide full funding for the transportation of foster, highly mobile, and homeless students. Transportation availability would cover transportation to and from nonpublic schools, language immersion programs, the student’s child care provider, and the school for resident students.
In the event eligible elementary school students do not live in the district, they must be provided with transportation services during the school year. In addition, the statement specifies that nonresident elementary pupils must also be provided with transportation services during the regular school year.
Oregon: Transportation and Access to Education Pilot Program (Proposed)
SHC is supporting another bill lawmakers are still considering, SB 658 (xix), which would help address the barriers that students experiencing homelessness often face in getting to school, getting to school consistently and on time, (including transportation) and having the support and resources they need to succeed once there.
The Road Ahead and the Need for Advocacy
Much of the legislation presented in the section above is still pending in state legislatures. Without passage, the proposals are simply ideas policymakers might consider in addressing these issues. If enacted, these proposals will need robust efforts to ensure effective implementation.
Policy and advocacy are essential for addressing child and youth homelessness because they can help create systemic change that supports young people who are experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness. Policies and advocacy efforts can result in increased funding and resources for programs and services that address youth homelessness. This can include funding for shelters, transitional housing, and support services such as counseling, job training, and education.
Many aspects of youth homelessness are invisible to the public, policymakers, educators, and service providers. Advocacy can help raise awareness about the issue of child and youth homelessness and the need for resources and services to address it. By bringing attention to the issue, policymakers and the public can better understand the scope of the problem and the need for action. We also can increase the preventative work being done to address the underlying causes of youth homelessness. Advocacy activity underpins every major development in addressing issues of child and youth homelessness, and now, more than ever, it is critical to increase these initiatives.
Ultimately, policy and advocacy efforts can help create systemic change that supports young people who are experiencing homelessness. This can include changes to housing policy, education policy, and social services that make it easier for young people to access the resources and support they need to thrive.
How to Engage in Advocacy
1. Identify your goals. Start by clearly identifying what you want to achieve through your advocacy work. Are you trying to raise awareness about youth homelessness in your community? Are you advocating for policy changes or funding to support homeless youth services? You can create a targeted advocacy plan that addresses specific issues by defining your goals.
2. Research the issue. Educate yourself on the issue of child and youth homelessness. Gather data and statistics from local education agencies, youth service providers, and cross-sector partners in housing, child welfare, and juvenile justice. The story this data tells will help you decipher which issues should be prioritized. You can also benefit from examining what other states have done to introduce bills or pass laws and reaching out to those groups involved in those campaigns to document best practices (xx). This will help you to make informed decisions and advocate more effectively.
(xx) SchoolHouse Connection provides various state law briefs and nationwide policy updates on the website. You can find those resources here.
3. Identify your audience. Who are the key stakeholders with influence that can drive youth homelessness policy change? This may include lawmakers, community leaders, service providers, and people with lived experience. Develop targeted messaging that speaks to each audience. Search your existing network for connections that already exist.
4. Build coalitions. Identify organizations and individuals that share your goals and work together to advocate for change. By building coalitions, you can amplify your message and increase your impact. Building coalitions with organizations that can lobby and engage in cross-sector advocacy is imperative. A diverse coalition brings in multiple related perspectives that are informed by their shared experience with the issue. This should include impacted young people, whose voices should be featured prominently, and whose lived experiences should be central to your strategy. Their stories will drive the work forward and ensure that solutions are relevant and comprehensive.
5. Develop a plan of action. Identify specific actions you can take to achieve your advocacy goals. This may include meeting with policymakers, organizing rallies or awareness events, speaking at community meetings, or using social media to raise awareness. This may also include conducting a phone, email, or social media campaign and engaging national organizations for best practices. You should develop a plan of action that is iterative and responsive. It is imperative that this plan accounts for multiple meetings with stakeholders, alternative strategies, community engagement, and public awareness campaigns.
6. Measure your impact. Keep track of your progress and measure the impact of your advocacy work. All progress is a step in the right direction, no matter how small. This will help you to adjust your strategy as needed and demonstrate the effectiveness of your efforts.
Advocacy Plan & Power Analysis Template
The goal of power analysis in advocacy is to identify opportunities for change and develop strategies to shift the balance of power in favor of marginalized groups or causes. A power analysis can also help advocates understand the sources of resistance to change and anticipate potential obstacles or challenges.
Remember that advocacy work is a long-term process that requires patience, persistence, and collaboration. With these tips in mind, you can effectively plan and execute your advocacy work for youth experiencing homelessness.
Advocating for children and youth experiencing homelessness is a moral imperative and a matter of social responsibility. Homelessness affects the health and well-being of young people and has long-term social and economic consequences. By advocating for policies and programs that support children and youth experiencing homelessness in accessing housing and transportation, we can break the cycle of poverty and homelessness and create a better future for all. Every young person needs a safe and stable home, and by advocating for their needs, we can help them realize their full potential and build a brighter tomorrow.