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How To Be Homeless And Get An Education

Updated on September 7, 2020

©Adrienne F. Manson No portion of this article may be reproduced without consent from the author.

Yes the title is interesting, however, I would not want to see anyone trying to get an education while being homeless. Unfortunately, there are thousands of children who are faced with living homeless, and trying to get an education. The Title VII McKinney-Vento Act addresses the issue of school children who are homeless. This article discusses a serious issue, and I state my opinion on being homeless and a student in the City of Chicago.

The Title VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was created to assist homeless students within the public school system. The homeless population increases itself every year. The homeless situation presents itself within the classrooms of the Chicago Public School system. The Chicago Public School system in years past did not allow students to register for school without a permanent address. Cases of parents trying to register their child for school with a relatives address became an increasing, and re-occurring situation that had to be addressed by the Illinois State Board of Education.

In the City of Chicago there is a prevalent circumstance of homeless children in the educational system. The educational policy on homelessness has several points an educator must consider before taking any type of action. The McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act was created to assist homeless children with the Chicago Public School System. The act first defines who and how to determine what constitutes a child being homeless. The act defines children who are homeless to include:

1) Sharing housing due to no fixed housing

2) Economic hardship

3) Living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds

4) Living in shelters

5) Waiting for foster care placement

The act is clear, and specifies who is considered to be homeless. Children are to be served by the Chicago Public School system regardless of being homeless. The act is inclusive to many services a child or youth has the right to regardless of their non-stable living situation.

The act includes a student having the right to transportation in order to get to class on time. At the request of the parent or guardian the school must provide transportation to the student.

The educational policy on homelessness works in the best interest of the child. In Chicago there are high percentages of families which fall into the homeless population. Before the McKinney-Vento Act became in place homeless students were not served due to not having a verifiable address. Students who were homeless did not meet the enrollment requirements to attend school. The educational policy on homelessness enforced that students must not be discriminated against because of homelessness. In conjunction with homelessness being problematic for families there brings the challenging daily preparation of not being able to prepare meals. The only nutritional meal some children receive is during school hours. It has been proven that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Homeless children reach the doorstep of school without being nourished. Students who are not properly nourished have problems paying attention, and focusing during class.

I believe in the future there will be an increased percentage of students who are homeless due to the economic status of families who live in poverty. According to (Holgersson-Shorter, 2010) “Today, families with young children comprise 41% of the nation’s homeless population. According to the Institute of Children and Poverty, more than 1.35 million kids in the United States are homeless. And this does not count the indefinite number of families living on the edge of foreclosure and eviction” (P.47).

I believe every child has a right to education regardless of their living arrangements. Children should not have to experience being turned away from school due to homelessness. The educational system has a great impact on the welfare of children in society today. Teachers are the first line of defense when a child has a problem at home. Teachers not only have the responsibility to educate each learner, but they have a duty to respond when there is a concern regarding a child. The educator must respond whether the concern is domestic, physical, emotional, or educational, a report must be filed with the correct individual in authority. A report must be filed to ensure the necessary requirements are met in order for the child to receive assistance.

I believe once an educator takes note that there is a possible homeless situation with a student action should be taken quickly in order for the student not to feel out of place before other students may notice there is a problem. Children should not have to experience feeling ashamed, or embarrassed this is why it should be handled discretely.

An approach to diminish negative implications of this problem is to address Chicago’s housing problematic condition. According to (Testa & Sander, 2010) “In recent research, scholars have stressed other factors that may affect where households locate. Rosenthal (2008) explains how economic change affects the economic status of neighborhoods overtime. He shows that neighborhoods decline and renewal are related to the quality of housing and other aspects of neighborhoods, such as the presence of architecturally significant homes, age of housing stock, and attributes of neighbors, such as race and educational attainment” (P. 118).

In Testa’s research the location of an individual’s home has a direct correlation to educational attainment. According to the research the negative implications would be diminished due to the historical data that shows the likelihood of a student’s achievement that has a stable living arrangement. The architectural aesthetics also has an implication of having a positive effect on a student’s success. There is the issue of where a student lives versus the student who is homeless.

I believe one way to diminish homelessness is to address housing in the City of Chicago. Not only is housing directly related to the achievement of a student’s success, but where a student’s domicile is located either increases or decreases a student’s classroom success. Students are faced with peer pressures, bullying, and the use of illegal substances. Students today have the difficulty of staying focused on their educational goals when they are faced with issues within their community.

Homelessness is a problem, but I think if the issue of low-income housing was addressed students would not have to bare the cross of being homeless, and having maintain a healthy study habit simultaneously while being homeless. The City of Chicago began its’ housing redevelopment plan by revamping the housing projects such as Ida B. Wells, and other high rise projects. The City of Chicago made an effort to ensure that all families would be housed while redevelopment took place, however some families where displaced. The point of redeveloping the housing projects was to create a better living environment for families. The reality of revamping of the housing projects created hostility from families who were tenants of CHA.

I think while the City of Chicago was focused on rebuilding the housing projects, it was not considered how the redevelopment would affect families with school children. I believe the City of Chicago could have created a better plan to house families in order not to displace anyone. The Chicago Public School system received a backlash due to the housing projects being rebuilt.

My personal philosophy regarding education and homelessness is no child should ever experience the misfortunate of not being housed. Unfortunately, many children do experience the perils of homelessness. If there were an effective emergency housing program where families could go right away to be place immediately without waiting this would decrease Chicago’s homeless situation drastically. A program of this magnitude would decrease the negative implications of being homeless. There are housing programs for women and children who are homeless, but the waiting list to be placed can up to 1 year, and in some cases 2 years. I find this unacceptable. Children who are homeless miss more school days than children who are not. According to (Goldstein, Little, & Akin-Little, 2003) “One major barrier to learning faced by students and teachers in American schools today is a lack of consistent attendance in classrooms. In fact, the United States Department of Education (1994) has cited absenteeism as the most important factor linked to performance differences among students, and absenteeism has recently been identified as being at crisis proportion” (Kearney, 2003).

Students being absent for class creates a barrier for a learner’s success, students who are homeless are at a greater risk of failing. I believe when a student is absent consistently educators should take proactive measures to find out what is preventing the student from getting to class.

The City of Chicago has made an effort to count how many homeless individuals are actually living on the streets of Chicago, but this is not good enough. After the total count was taken no one had a solution how to help homeless families.


Holgersson-Shorter. (2010). Helping The Homeless In School and Out. Teaching Tolerance, 47-50.

Testa, W., & Sander, W. (2010). Educational Attainment and Household Location: The Case of Chicago's Lakefront. Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Economic Perspectives, 116-129.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Fierce Manson


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