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It’s back-to-school time!  A time of excitement and anticipation in most households but not so for the more than 1.3 million homeless students in the United States.  For them, school presents multiple challenges beyond completing assignments on time — trying to work on an empty stomach, being able to stay after school to participate in extracurricular activities and staying awake in class after a sleepless night.  For some, simply getting to school is a challenge.

All students need and deserve a good education to have a chance for a successful future.  For homelessness students, it is their ticket out of poverty and homelessness forever. That is why we at Family Promise believe it is imperative that students experiencing the instability of homelessness be given every support needed to overcome the obstacles to their achieving success.

The McKinney-Vento Act is federal legislation designed to ensure that homeless students receive whatever help they need to enroll and do well in school.  Under this legislation, the definition of homelessness is quite broad.  Any child who lacks a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence is considered to be homeless.”  This includes families who are in shelters, staying in motels, sleeping in their cars, or doubled or tripled up with family or friends due to financial hardship.

But often, the difficulty comes in identifying students who are, in fact, homeless.  Student homelessness is invisible.  Parents don’t self-identify.  They are embarrassed they cannot afford adequate housing.  They are afraid they will lose custody of their children.  Parents and are unaware of the McKinney –Vento Act and its benefits.  School personnel are as well.

Every school district has a Homeless Liaison who is charged with reporting the number of students experiencing homelessness and making certain parents understand they are eligible for services so their child can succeed in school despite being homeless. Liaisons, for example, can ensure homeless students have school supplies and that they have a nutritious breakfast.   They can even provide sneakers for gym class!

This September, when you take your child to school, ask the principal who the Homeless Liaison is for your district. Give them a copy of the flyer in this link http://nche.ed.gov/pr/er_poster.php#.WaN0CqZ4S5g.email and ask them to post this in a prominent place in every school. This important information needs to get exposure in the larger community. Families are struggling and so are their children.

Together, let’s make certain every child has the resources they need to succeed regardless of their housing situation.

Happy back to school everyone.