In early March, prior to widespread school closures related to the coronavirus outbreak, SchoolHouse Connection (SHC) hosted a statewide convening on higher education and homelessness in Tennessee. We hosted three in-person convenings in Murfreesboro, Knoxville, and Memphis and live-streamed the convening. Together, we had over 100 people in attendance. The purpose of the convening was to help institutions implement HB 1000 / SB 763, a new state law that requires each post-secondary institution in Tennessee to designate a Homeless Student Liaison to assist students experiencing homelessness in applying for and receiving financial aid and available services.
HB 1000 is one of a number of state laws supporting college students experiencing homelessness for which SHC has advocated. Disasters and emergencies like recent tornadoes and the unprecedented coronavirus outbreak make these state laws even more important, both because of the special supportive services that students experiencing homelessness need as they attempt to continue their education, and the likelihood of even greater levels of student homelessness as a result of these disasters.
SHC engages in state policy advocacy in partnership with local child and youth advocates, McKinney-Vento liaisons, homeless service providers, colleges and universities, civic organizations, and most importantly, young people with lived experience of homelessness.
However, it is not enough to have a state law like HB 1000 pass. We also work to provide implementation strategies and proper training, like the Tennessee statewide convening, to ensure higher education professionals are providing students experiencing homelessness with the necessary support and services.
At the beginning of the convening, we noted that HB 1000 was introduced because many of the convening’s attendees themselves had been advocating for support structures in higher education that are parallel to the K-12 McKinney-Vento liaisons. We then provided an overview of the roles and responsibilities of the newly-created Homeless Student Liaison. We set the context by providing a macro-level example of college student homelessness noting that 16% of four-year respondents and 17% of two-year respondents reported homelessness in 2019.
Most survey respondents had little to no knowledge about resources for students experiencing homelessness or HB 1000.
We also shared national best practices on a number of issues, including the transition from high school, identifying students experiencing homelessness, financial aid, and housing supports.
Next, we transitioned to the three Tennessee campuses for a micro-level view of their journeys in implementing HB 1000.
Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) is the model program for HB 1000. The MTSU Next Step program has provided services and support to homeless and foster youth since 2008, including a designated homeless liaison, mentor program, food pantry, emergency fund, and other services. MTSU described the evolution of its program and the resources they offer to students experiencing homelessness. Pellissippi State Community College shared the perspective of a two-year institution still growing its program, including its robust partnerships and award-winning food pantry. The University of Memphis described its emergency and transitional housing programs, and its collaborative approach to holistic care. Each institution provided advice, guidance, and steps to establish partnerships both on and off-campus for the Homeless Student Liaison role.
“Today’s meeting identified some community resources I was unaware of and provided the opportunity to meet some potential partners. I also left with a lot of questions for our financial aid department and admissions office.”
While each of the institutions represented at the convening is at a different stage of the process of identifying and providing resources and services, they are united by their local community support. We spent the last part of the convening with each host site community meeting independently, to answer questions, share knowledge, and build and strengthen relationships among McKinney-Vento liaisons, local organizations and non-profits, and other college campuses. Collaborating together, we can work to provide the best care and support for students experiencing homelessness to successfully transition to and through higher education.
The March 2020 convening was the first of many trainings that will support Tennessee students and help institutions to fully implement HB 1000. The archived recording of the convening is available here. We also have created a collaborative folder of compiled Tennessee resources. We are constantly learning new best practices for college students experiencing homelessness so if you would like to share your resources, or have questions, please contact Jillian Sitjar. If you have questions about state policy, please contact Patricia Julianelle.
Image above: Our Higher Education Program Manager, Jillian Sitjar, hosting the convening at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
“The information was very helpful. It will help me access resources for the youth that I work with at the Department of Children’s Services.”