Challenges to Identifying Students Newly Experiencing Homelessness at the Beginning of the School Year


The beginning of the school year is a very busy time for school district staff, especially those working in the front office of schools. Enrolling new students can be a time consuming process. The multitude of forms to be completed and information to be loaded into student information systems can consume enormous amounts of time. This can take the focus off of other important student related issues. One such issue is students that are newly experiencing homelessness, who became homeless over the summer. These students may be eligible for services, but may not receive those services if they are not identified.

Identification of students newly experiencing homelessness can sometimes be a complicated task. Students may not wish to be identified as such due to embarrassment regarding their living situation. Asking the parents of all students to complete a student residency questionnaire each year can help mitigate the issue of the difficulty in identifying students experiencing homelessness, but it is not a cure all. It is important for staff to be sensitive to students and refer students they believe may be experiencing homelessness to the appropriate district staff. Providing referral forms to shelters, soup kitchens, and other organizations that serve families experiencing homelessness is also important.

In addition, students newly experiencing homelessness may not return to school. Sometimes a student unexpectedly does not return to school in the new year. If this happens, and no request for records from a school the student may have transferred to is received, it may be an indicator of a student that has potentially become homeless. Following up with the student's parents, using the last known phone number or other contact information may be important. Once identified, keeping track of students experiencing homelessness can be another challenge.

Here are some helpful resources for identifying and supporting students experiencing homelessness.

Cayen System's Homeless Information Management System for Students (HIMSS) is a useful tool for keeping track of students experiencing homelessness and TransACT's ESSA Parent Notices includes a student residency questionnaire and homeless student referral form.

Dr. David Holbrook

About The Author

Dr. David Holbrook is a nationally recognized leader in federal programs administration and monitoring with expertise in Title I, Title III, Native American Education, and Federal Programs. Dr. Holbrook has also worked as a consultant with Title III of the US Department of Education and now serves as Executive Director, Federal Compliance and State Relationships with TransACT Communications.