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Every Child & Youth

 

Resources to Support Children, Youth, and Families Experiencing Homelessness During the COVID-19 Crisis

In the wake of COVID-19, child, youth, and family homelessness is expected to reach an all-time high. The pandemic heightened the challenges and impacts of homelessness, especially with COVID-related job loss, limited shelter capacity, evictions, and difficulties accessing rental assistance. In addition, school building closures prevented students experiencing homelessness from being identified and connected to basic support like shelter, food, health services, and resources to learn. 

As classrooms reopen this fall, it’s critical that we prioritize supporting our students experiencing homelessness. Doing so is not only a legal obligation under the McKinney Vento Act, but the only way to ensure every child has the opportunity to recover and thrive in school. Homelessness is experienced by vulnerable student groups at disproportionate rates – so addressing child and youth homelessness is necessary for equitable COVID-19 recovery. 

Whether you are a parent or youth experiencing homelessness, or a professional who works with families and children, the resources on this page are here to help you.

To equip you with the right resources, select your role. Also, don’t forget to listen to a special message from Elmo to children and parents experiencing homelessness.

I am a Child/Youth.

If you are staying temporarily with someone else because you had to leave your home, or staying in a motel, campground, shelter, or in an outside or inadequate place, you have special rights at school — even if you are not staying with a parent or a guardian.

Those rights include:

  • Staying in the same school even if you move, and receiving transportation to that school, as long as it is in your best interest
  • Enrolling in school immediately without the documents schools usually require, and without a parent or guardian
  • Receiving free school meals
  • Getting help with school supplies, including what is needed to participate in distance learning and other needs

To get help, contact your school district’s local homeless education liaison to find out if you qualify for help, or ask a counselor, teacher, or other trusted adult to connect you to the liaison. Every school district is required to designate a local homeless education liaison, who is responsible for helping children and youth experiencing homelessness and connecting them with relevant local resources. 

*Note: this contact information may change frequently due to staff turnover. If you have problems finding the right school district homeless liaison, please contact your state homeless education coordinator.

Find resources written by students, for students, that are designed to help you succeed in K-12, higher education, and life. Resources address topics such as understanding homeless definitions, getting help with financial aid (including COVID-19 relief), accessing child care, reviewing a lease, choosing and buying a cell phone plan, and more.

If you find yourself in a dangerous situation, or in need of medical, emotional, or physical support, please see this list of national hotlines that provide an array of services. All hotlines listed are national hotlines providing 24/7 support across the United States.

I am a Parent/Caregiver.

If you are staying temporarily with someone else because you lost your housing, or staying in a motel, campground, shelter, or in an outside or inadequate place, you and your children have special rights at school. These include:

  • Keeping your children in the same school even if you move, and receiving transportation to that school, as long as it is in the student’s best interest;
  • Enrolling in school immediately without the documents schools usually require;
  • Receiving free school meals;
  • Getting help with school supplies and other needs;
  • Receiving extra support for youth who are on their own;
  • Connecting young children with early childhood services;

Your school district must uphold these rights under the law.

Connect with the local homeless education liaison in your school district to receive help. Every school district is required to designate a local homeless education liaison, who is responsible for helping children and youth experiencing homelessness and connecting them with relevant local resources.

*Note: this contact information may change frequently due to staff turnover. If you have problems finding the right school district homeless liaison, please contact your state homeless education coordinator.

If you are pregnant and/or have young children experiencing homelessness, a program called Head Start may be able to help. Children experiencing homelessness are eligible for Head Start (preschool for three and four year olds) and Early Head Start (infants and toddlers). These programs must locate and recruit children experiencing homelessness, and prioritize them for enrollment. Homeless children can start attending without proof of age or immunizations. The best way to find local programs is to contact your Head Start State Collaboration Office. You also can look through this directory of local programs.

Get resources and activities for your children from Sesame Street in Communities, including tips for how to talk to your child about homelessness and how to create a feeling of home even if you are moving around a lot.

If you find yourself in a dangerous situation, or in need of medical, emotional, or physical support, please see this list of national hotlines that provide an array of services. All hotlines listed are national hotlines providing 24/7 support across the United States.

I am an Educator/Provider.

If you are an educator, service provider, or community organization, you have a critical role to play in helping to connect children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness to school.

1. Look Closer

Homelessness for families and youth is hidden. Many communities lack shelters for families and youth, and families and youth may fear shelter – especially after COVID-19. For these reasons, families and youth are much more likely to stay temporarily with other people, or in motels, than in shelters. These situations are often unstable, and sometimes unsafe. Public schools and early childhood programs use a definition of homelessness that includes families and youth who are staying:

  • with someone else temporarily because they lost housing, or a similar reason
  • in a motel due to lack of adequate alternatives
  • in shelters or transitional housing
  • In campgrounds, cars, or in an outside or inadequate place.
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Potential signs of homelessness might include:

  • Hearing children or parents talking about having to leave where they are staying, or staying with other people; 
  • Being in public places during the school day, 
  • Poor hygiene
  • Unmet medical/dental needs (not having Personal Protective Equipment (PPE))
  • Wearing the same clothes repeatedly
  • Fatigue
  • Social and behavioral challenges may include extreme shyness, withdrawal, or aggression; clinginess; difficulty with peer and/or adult relationships; poor attention span; and anxiety late in the school day.
  • If you are an educator, see these signs of potential homelessness during virtual learning.

2. Learn More

If you suspect a child, youth, or family may be experiencing homelessness, learn more by talking with them with sensitivity. 

Remember that parents and youth are often afraid to share their situation and uncomfortable asking for help. Trauma-informed tips from the Office of Head Start for talking to parents experiencing homelessness include:

  • Be attentive to the stigma of homelessness and avoid using the word “homeless”  
  • Talk with the family privately
  • Be conversational so that families do not feel interrogated
  • Request permission to ask questions
  • Share your commitment to problem-solving and sharing resources with the family
  • Avoid unnecessary questions that may cause embarrassment
  • Explain the reasons for your questions
  • Show respect by conveying that you see the parents as the experts on their family
  • Apply active listening skills that demonstrate compassion and respect

3. Act

Help families and youth experiencing homelessness connect to resources at school and exercise their right to an education. Public schools are required to identify, enroll, and serve homeless children and youth. Specific rights include:

  • Staying in the same school even if they move, and receiving transportation to that school, as long as it is in the student’s best interest;
  • Enrolling in school immediately without the documents schools usually require;
  • Receiving free school meals;
  • Getting help with school supplies and other needs;
  • Connecting young children with early childhood services.

To help parents and youth exercise their rights, connect parents or youth to their local homeless education liaison, a position required by federal law that is responsible for identifying children and youth experiencing homelessness and connecting them with relevant local resources.

*Note: this contact information may change frequently due to staff turnover. If you have problems finding the right school district homeless liaison, please contact your state homeless education coordinator.

To help parents who are pregnant and/or have young children experiencing homelessness, a program called Head Start may be able to help. Children experiencing homelessness are eligible for Head Start (preschool for three and four year olds) and Early Head Start (infants and toddlers). These programs must locate and recruit children experiencing homelessness and prioritize them for enrollment. Homeless children can start attending without proof of age or immunizations. The best way to find local programs is to contact your Head Start State Collaboration Office. You also can look through this directory of local programs.

To help your community and schools improve outreach to families and youth:

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