Supporting Homeless Students Through Cross-Program Collaboration

Across the U.S., over 1.2 million students experience homelessness each year. However, the actual number of students affected by homelessness may be even higher. When you think of a homeless student, you may picture a family living in a car or a shelter—but what about sharing a single room in a relative’s home, or temporarily living in a hotel? The McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Program recently expanded the definition of homelessness to include any student without a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. The distinction is important because research has shown that any housing instability harms a student’s ability to learn, whether a student is sleeping on a bench or in their aunt’s living room. According to a 2019 analysis, students experiencing any form of homelessness had lower rates of attendance, graduation, and academic proficiency, when compared to students with stable housing.

As educators, we have a responsibility to help all students receive the resources they need to attain a high-quality education. To do so, we must ensure program coordinators are working together to identify students who are homeless, apply for federal funds to assist them, and remove barriers to their success.

In this blog, we’ll go over the key requirements of the McKinney-Vento Act and discuss how the Local Homeless Liaison can work together with the Title I Director and other departments to help identify homeless students and ensure their needs are met.

What is the McKinney-Vento Act?

Established in 1987, the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act is a United States federal law that provides funds for homeless shelter programs. Subtitle VII-B of the Act authorizes the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Program, which provides rights and services to children and youth experiencing homelessness, including those who meet one or more of the following qualifications:

● Sharing housing with others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason
● Staying in motels, trailer parks, or campgrounds due to lack of an adequate alternative
● Staying in shelters or transitional housing
● Sleeping in cars, parks, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, or similar settings

How Can Schools Remove Barriers for Homeless Students?

Schools are required to ensure children experiencing homelessness have access to the same free, appropriate public education and related services as their permanently housed peers, giving them an equal opportunity to meet the same challenging academic standards. Subtitle VII-B requires state education agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs) to remove barriers to identification, enrollment, attendance, and success in school for homeless students. To do so, SEAs and LEAs must develop, review, and revise policies that ensure homeless students have access to the following:

  • Immediate enrollment
  • School selection
  • Transportation
  • Free meals
  • Credit accrual
  • Post-secondary education
  • Dispute resolution

How Can Departments Collaborate to Support Homeless Students?

Cross-program collaboration isn’t just a recommendation to help homeless students succeed. It is a federal requirement. The two most important roles in supporting these students are the Title I Coordinators and Local Homeless Education Liaison. Here is an overview of each role and how they collaborate to support students. 

Local Homeless Education Liaison
Each LEAs is required to appoint a Local Homeless Education Liaison. The Local Homeless Liaison coordinates with students, parents, administrators, and other departments to ensure homeless children are identified and immediately enrolled in school. The liaison provides information about rights and opportunities for homeless children and their families and provides training and support for school personnel. They also collaborate and coordinate services for homeless students and ensure disputes are mediated.

Title I Director
Homeless students are automatically eligible for Title I, Part A services, whether they attend a Title I, Part A school, or not. Homeless students are part of Title I, Part A’s target population of disadvantaged students, and they face unique barriers and challenges compared to other Title I students, including high mobility, trauma, and poverty. Automatic Title I, Part A eligibility allows homeless students to receive additional, non-instructional, education-related support services. Because of this, coordination between Local Homeless Liaisons and Title I Directors is critical.

The Title I Director should include their liaison in coordinated support systems, teams, and committees. They should also involve the liaison in the creation of plans. Title I Directors may use data from a variety of sources to determine set-aside funding and activities. They must include set-aside information in Title I, Part A grant applications. Title I Directors must also be sure to include homeless parents in Title I, Part A, under “parental involvement activities.”

Collaborating on Local Plan Development
The LEA must include a description of how its Title I, Part A program coordinates with the McKinney-Vento program in its local plans. Development of the plan should include consultation with the local homeless liaison, and must describe the Title I, Part A services provided to homeless students, including homeless set-aside funds. While 90% of U.S. school districts receive Title I, Part A funds, only 22% receive McKinney-Vento subgrants to support students who are homeless. To meet the needs of all students, it is critical that both programs work together to leverage all available resources.

The Local Homeless Liaison should provide Title I Directors with input on their plans to serve homeless students. This information can be used in completing Title I, Part A applications. Liaisons should also provide Title I Directors with data regarding the needs of homeless students. They may then work with Title I Directors to determine a process for accessing set-aside funds. Liaisons must provide a description of their coordinated activities with Title I, Part A and McKinney Vento subgrant applications. They must also provide information about Title I, Part A services offered by the district to parents of homeless students.

Homeless Liaisons and Title I Directors should work together to:

  • Review data on homeless students in the district
  • Conduct a needs assessment of homeless students
  • Explore any continued barriers
  • Ensure barriers are addressed

Who Else Can Help?

Local Homeless Liaisons and Title I Directors aren’t the only departments that can assist homeless students in accessing resources. There are many individuals within schools and districts who can help.

Food Services Directors
Any time a new student is identified, a great first step is to get in touch with the Food Services Director. The Food Services Department receives federal funds to provide meals for homeless students, so it is important to check in with this department at least once per month to make sure your list of homeless students is aligned.

Transportation Director
You also want to have a close working relationship with your Transportation Director. LEAs and SEAs are required to provide transportation for homeless students to attend school, and transportation may also be provided for doctor visits and other needs. The Transportation Director can assist in coordination.

Campus Administration
Campus administrators are often the first point of contact for homeless students and their families, so it’s important to work with them on an ongoing basis. Ensure administrators clearly understand how students are identified as homeless and provide a line of communication for them to get in touch with the local homeless liaison if a student loses housing or needs assistance. Liaisons should also communicate with administrators during school registration, to ensure all necessary paperwork is completed.

How May Set-Aside Funds Be Used?

There are rules and regulations regarding the usage of set-aside funds, and schools must be very purposeful in how these funds are spent. Services must be reasonable and necessary to assist homeless students in accessing educational opportunities. In addition, funds must be used only as a last resort, when not available from other sources. Finally, all funding must be documented, both before and after funds are spent. Here are some of the approved uses for these funds:

  • Clothing (i.e. school uniforms, PE)
  • Fees (i.e. participation, AP/IB testing, SAT/ACT testing)
  • School supplies
  • Birth certificates
  • Immunizations
  • Food
  • Medical & dental services
  • Eyeglasses & hearing aids
  • Counseling services
  • Outreach services
  • Extended learning time
  • Tutoring services
  • Parental involvement

Tools to Help with Compliance

With the right resources in place, students who are homeless have a greater chance of achieving success. Of course, administering these resources can be challenging, even when departments work together. At 806 Technologies, we provide software and services that can help SEAs and LEAs coordinate plans to serve homeless students and maintain compliance with state and federal regulations. Here are two tools we provide that meet these needs:

Plan4Learning is a software system to create, monitor, and evaluate school improvement plans. SEAs and LEAs can use Plan4Learning to write improvement plans that include specific strategies to meet the needs of homeless students and document the use of federal funds to provide services that help them accomplish those strategies.

Title1Crate is a software program that digitizes the Title I documentation process, allowing campuses across the country to use the funding to its fullest potential. SEAs and LEAs can use Title1Crate to store and organize all required documentation for the services they provide to students.

Simplify documentation.
Amplify student success.

To find out more or start using Plan4Learning and Title1Crate, visit

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