Answer: Getting input on your program from parents, caregivers, and students experiencing homelessness is very important. They have a unique view of how your systems are working and where the barriers lie. However, it’s important to design opportunities for involvement that recognize the challenges of homelessness. For example, scheduling a meeting at school might not be successful. With everything going on in their lives, even parents who have obtained stable housing are unlikely to have time, transportation, child care, etc. to participate in something like this. In our work with youth, we have found that the best way to get participation from youth is to go where they are. For example, going to shelters and motels to talk to parents in a comfortable and non-threatening way can work. We have done focus groups with parents in motel lobbies, providing food and activities for children, and had good attendance and conversations. You also can carve out opportunities for parents experiencing homelessness to participate in other parental engagement activities by assisting with transportation and child care. Convening a separate group in a location that requires parents to travel in their “spare” time is a risky strategy.
Some programs also incorporate parent and youth surveys. These can be online, so parents and students can complete them on a computer at the shelter, in school, at a library, etc. Surveys also could be offered on paper, so they can be sent back and forth between home and school with the student. The survey could include the liaison’s contact information, so parents who want to share more ideas or meet with the liaison are provided information on how to do so. The surveys could also be anonymous, but include a space for parents to enter contact information if they would like someone from the school to reach out to them.