The number of homeless children in US schools continues to grow. Much of the increase is driven by the uncertain economy. Families are dealing with joblessness, less access to medical care, increased hunger and greater instability in the family unit. The nation's official poverty rate is 15.1% (2010), the highest since 1997.
Often associated with urban areas, homelessness and poverty is prevalent in rural areas as well. Rural families headed by women have a significantly higher poverty rate, generally 10% higher than other families.
Homeless children have legal protection under the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act (1987). The law requires that state and local educational agencies assure access to school, despite one's housing circumstances. Homeless children can remain in their school of origin, even if they move into housing in another district. Schools must provide transportation to their original school and homeless students can enroll immediately even without the documents normally required of new students.
The National Center for Homeless Education offers some tips on creating a welcoming school for homeless children.
- Welcome the student like any other new student.
- Talk with your teachers about how to create welcoming classrooms.
- Identify the important information that parents/families will need.
- Maintain a supply of materials at school that are available for students who may not have them.
- Understand your obligation about accepting the student and providing transportation if needed.
- Talk with the family about what the student studied at their previous school.
- Establish a place that students can complete homework either before or after school since they may not have a place where they are living.
- Be sensitive to word choice when talking about homeless students, and their families, with others in the school and in your community.
- Model welcoming and respectful behavior.
Additional resources for creating a welcoming environment for homeless students are available from:
National Center for Homeless Education at the SERVE Center (www.serve.org/nche)