February 2017, Vol. 1

How HR can help homeless students succeed

by Janelle Guillory

In 2014–15, Texas school districts identified 113,294 students as homeless at some point during the school year—or 2 percent of students. This number will likely reach 114,500 in 2016–17 based on enrollment. However, social policy researchers estimate that 10 percent of students below the poverty line will experience homelessness each year, and Texas has 1.7 million children living in poverty. This could mean that there are closer to 170,000 homeless students in Texas each year.
 
Title VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is designed to address the problems that homeless children and youth have enrolling, attending, and succeeding in school. The act requires state education agencies and local districts to ensure that each homeless student has equal access to educational and other services they need. According to the act, homeless students are those who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.
 
HR’s role in ensuring the success of homeless students involves two issues—staffing and training.

Staffing

The McKinney-Vento Act requires school districts to designate a single local homeless education liaison responsible for coordinating identification, services, and data reporting. In large districts, the liaison may be the head of a program serving homeless students, supported by caseworkers or administrative staff who connect families with local resources. In medium-sized districts, the liaison may be a social worker or school counselor, and there may or may not be any full-time staff to support them. However, in smaller districts (which most Texas districts are), liaison responsibilities can fall to a variety of people, from assistant superintendents and directors of curriculum to classroom teachers.
 
School districts also must provide services to homeless students who reside outside the district’s boundaries. This is because TEA allows that "a student experiencing homelessness may enroll in any district they choose, regardless of the location of their residence, school of origin, or attendance zone campus.” Although it represents a relatively small population, this provision could cause fluctuations in staffing needs.
 
Through proper staffing of the liaison role and any support staff, HR can help ensure the success of homeless students, whether the district has a full-time team or part-time allocations of other staff.

Staff training

Homeless students may go unidentified for a variety of personal reasons, like stigma or being unfamiliar with resources, but also for institutional reasons. When we focus on institutional causes, we come to the other intersection of HR and homelessness: staff training.
 
Much of the work identifying students as homeless falls to campus personnel, who have more interaction and familiarity with students and their parents or caregivers. District HR departments can work with homeless education liaisons to ensure campus staff have adequate training. Below are some useful highlights from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the McKinney-Vento Act.
 
Students will be best served by campus personnel who are aware of the factors that qualify a student as homeless. According to the McKinney-Vento Act, lacking a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” includes students who:
  • share the housing of others because of loss of housing or economic hardship (“doubled up”);
  • live in hotels, motels, or campgrounds because of a lack of alternatives;
  • live in a shelter or were abandoned in hospitals;
  • primarily reside in a public or private place not designed or ordinarily used as sleeping accommodation for humans;
  • live in a car, park, abandoned building, or bus or train stations; or
  • are migratory children who live in one of the above situations.
Additionally, staff can better serve students if they are aware of the Act’s requirements for enrollment, transportation, and Title I services.
  • Homeless students are to be enrolled immediately when they try. “Requiring missing paperwork or any other delay to enrollment is a violation of the McKinney-Vento Act,” according to TEA. Therefore, districts cannot require students experiencing homelessness to provide:
    • proof of residency or immunizations,
    • birth certificates or guardianship documents, or
    • any other sort of required paperwork. 
  • Districts are required to provide transportation and Title I services for homeless students. Delays in these may cause additional hardships for the student or may keep them out of school for longer than necessary.
Clear and consistent training on homeless student issues can ensure an accurate and efficient process that benefits students, families, and district staff.