Overlooked
and
Almost Out of Time:

Pandemic-Era Funds for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Executive Summary

At a time of increasing and unprecedented homelessness – with more children and youth living without safe, stable housing than during the pandemic – schools are running out of time to use federal pandemic-era funds dedicated to helping homeless students. While the pandemic is officially over, the crisis of homelessness is unabated and growing. Without urgent action at all levels — congressional, federal, state, and local — an extraordinary opportunity to help some of our nation’s most vulnerable students will be missed, prolonging and exacerbating broader educational challenges for schools and students.

This report presents key findings from a national survey of school district homeless liaisons about the impact of and challenges using American Rescue Plan – Homeless Children and Youth (ARP-HCY) funds. It finds that:

Child and youth homelessness has increased since the pandemic, creating a greater need for targeted support for students experiencing homelessness.

The number of families in homeless shelters and visibly unsheltered increased by 16% in 2023, while the number of unaccompanied youth in homeless shelters and visibly unsheltered increased by 15%. Nearly half of school district homeless liaisons reported higher numbers of students experiencing homelessness, while less than a tenth reported a decrease. 

ARP-HCY funds have proven to be impactful in schools across the nation.
  • The number of school districts receiving dedicated funding to support students experiencing homelessness has more than doubled as a result of ARP-HCY funding, reaching over half of all school districts.
  • Schools are taking advantage of the unique flexibility of ARP-HCY funds to meet a wide variety of urgent needs in ways that were not previously allowable with other federal funding sources.
  • School district homeless liaisons report many positive impacts of ARP-HCY funds, including increased school stability, identification, and attendance. Liaisons that reported they received ARP-HCY funds were nearly twice as likely to report an increase in student homelessness due in part to better outreach and more staffing capacity.
Despite these positive impacts, a number of challenges are preventing ARP-HCY funds from helping vulnerable students at a time of heightened need.
  • One-quarter of school district homeless liaisons surveyed indicated that they may not be able to obligate all of their ARP-HCY funds by the September 2024 deadline due to a limited amount of time and/or administrative hurdles. An additional 25% of liaisons were unaware their district received ARP-HCY funds, potentially making it difficult to meet spending deadlines. This is also a sign of a greater disconnect between school district homeless liaisons and local educational leadership.
  • Staff turnover and lack of capacity also emerged as challenges across survey responses. At the state level, there was a nearly 50% turnover rate in the position of State Coordinator for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth from April 2021 to January 2024. 
  • Even though liaisons are legally responsible for identifying and supporting students experiencing homelessness, they are often excluded from key decisions about use of funding. Of school district homeless liaisons who indicated that they may not be able to use all of their funds to help homeless students by the September 2024 deadline, 25% stated that not being a part of funding decisions in the LEA was a contributing factor.
  • Many school district homeless liaisons are unsure if or how they will sustain services or programming funded by ARP-HCY; the majority will look to some form of limited federal funding to continue to support students experiencing homelessness.
Federal, state, and local recommendations
  • Congress should extend the obligation deadline by at least one school year to ensure that all ARP-HCY funds are used strategically to support increasing numbers of students experiencing homelessness. Congress also should increase annual funding for the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) funding
  • The U.S. Department of Education should expedite and clarify the extended liquidation processes; provide clear, timely responses to all questions related to allowable use of ARP-HCY funds; and clarify that all of the allowable uses described in the September 2023 guidance extend to annual Education of Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) funding.
  • State education leaders should request extended liquidation of ARP-HCY funds; publicize ARP-HCY allocations and balances on SEA websites; conduct shared outreach to school superintendents, school district liaisons, and school finance officers; and expedite budget amendment, procurement, and other administrative processes.
  • Local education leaders should allow all federally approved uses of ARP-HCY funds; include school district homeless liaisons in ARP-HCY spending and sustainability decisions; and expedite budget amendment, procurement, and other administrative processes.
  • State legislatures should provide dedicated, specific resources to support the identification and support of students experiencing homelessness.
“Now that there is a better understanding of how ARP-HCY funds can be used and we have developed a stronger collaborative system with outside agencies, extending the time allotted for spending these funds would be beneficial. This would enable us to intentionally provide needed assistance to our families, without duplication.”

West Virginia

 

“The ability to provide a store card for groceries has been a life-saver for our families. I can hardly believe I won that fight with finance, but persistence paid off, literally. Transportation by use of Special Education buses for school of origin is currently non-existent due to logistics and the fact that our SpEd buses are already at capacity with hundreds of SpEd students. ARP-HCY funds have afforded taxi use when city bus passes won’t work for young children or families with similar working hours. These funds have made all the difference in the world to these vulnerable students.”

Alaska

 

“I am beyond grateful for the funds we have received. However the stress of spending the money in a short amount of time, and some of the stipulations, are making it challenging to fulfill all the needs of the grant. I just want to be able to help our students, and some of the hoops we have to jump through along the way make it difficult in urgent situations.”

Michigan

 

 

“I am not sure how funds are used because whenever the building liaisons request assistance for things like glasses, cab transportation, clothing, etc., we are advised that we need to exhaust ALL community resources before we can help families. There is not enough time in the day to call community partners for every family in need. Sometimes it is a reasonable ask, but often we are out of luck. I have yet to make any purchases for families this school year. I feel like we are creating more barriers for families.”

New Hampshire

 

“We have been able to support our rapidly growing McKinney-Vento population with hotels, school supplies, uniforms, hygiene items, and extra support services for academic growth. Having the money available when we have an urgent need makes all the difference for our families in need.”

Arizona

 

“ARP has allowed us our first step in building up our relationships with families. That was a large barrier in families’ willingness to have conversations and shop at the Family Resource Center to be their own advocates. With games to check out and gas cards available, two of the most asked for supports from families, the families seem to be feeling heard and open to further collaboration.”

Washington State

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Acknowledgments & Dedication

SchoolHouse Connection is profoundly grateful to Samira Soleimanpour and Sara Geierstanger at the Institute for Health Policy Studies, School of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco for their guidance and counsel on methodology, and Jen Erb-Downward of Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan for her expert review and editing.

This report is dedicated to school district homeless liaisons across the nation who carry the hopes and dreams of children, youth and their families in their hearts, and who persist in systems that sometimes do not see them or value their work. We hope this report does justice to your experiences, and elevates your voices to decision makers at every level.

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