Who is Homeless?


Who is homeless?

The term “homeless children and

(A) means individuals who lack a
fixed, regular, and adequate
nighttime residence …; and
(B) includes—
children and youths who are
sharing the housing of other
persons due to loss of housing,
economic hardship, or a
similar reason; are living in
motels, hotels, trailer parks,
or camping grounds due to
the lack of alternative accommodations;
are living in emergency
or transitional shelters;
are abandoned in hospitals;
or are awaiting foster care
(ii) children and youths who have
a primary nighttime residence
that is a public or private
place not designed for or ordinarily
used as a regular
sleeping accommodation for
human beings …
(iii) children and youths who are
living in cars, parks, public
spaces, abandoned buildings,
substandard housing, bus or
train stations, or similar settings;
(iv) migratory children who qualify
as homeless for the purposes
of this subtitle because
the children are living in circumstances
described in
clauses (i) through (iii).
This document was collaboratively
developed by:

National Association for the Education
of Homeless Children and Youth


National Center for Homeless
Education (NCHE)—800-308-2145


National Coalition for the Homeless
(NCH)—202-737-6444 ext. 18—


National Law Center for Homelessness
and Poverty (NLCHP)—202-638-2535

National Network for Youth (NN4Y)—

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (Subtitle B—Education for Homeless
Children and Youth), reauthorized in January 2002, ensures educational rights and
protections for children and youth experiencing homelessness. This brief explains the
legislation and offers strategies for implementing it in a school district. Additional
briefs on various topics in the law may be found on the websites of the organizations
listed below.

Key Provisions

The term “homeless” is broadly defined by the McKinney-Vento Act’s
Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program, as quoted at left.
The term “unaccompanied youth” includes youth in homeless situations
who are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.
Preschool children, migrant children, and youth whose parents will
not permit them to live at home or who have run away from home
(even if their parents are willing to have them return home) are considered
homeless if they fit the definition.
Homelessness is a lack of permanent housing resulting from extreme poverty,
or, in the case of unaccompanied youth, the lack of a safe and stable living
environment. Over 1.35 million children and youth experience homelessness
in a year.1 Families are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population
in the United States, accounting for approximately 40 percent of those in
homeless situations.2 Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in family
homelessness over the past 15–20 years: a growing shortage of affordable
rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty. There is an increasing
gap between income and housing costs for low-income individuals. For example,
a minimum-wage worker cannot afford the Fair Market Rent for housing
in any jurisdiction in the United States.3

Yet, despite the obvious need, the supply of affordable housing continues to
dwindle. Between 1997 and 1999, there was a net loss of more than 300,000
housing units affordable to households with low incomes.4 The shortfall in
affordable housing for the very poorest households now stands at 3.3 million
housing units. The lack of affordable housing has resulted in an increase in the
number of people who become homeless. A survey of 27 U.S. cities found that
requests for emergency shelter increased by an average of 13 percent in 2001;
requests for shelter by homeless families alone increased by 22 percent.5

The primary causes of homelessness among unaccompanied youth are physical
and sexual abuse by a parent or guardian, neglect, parental substance
abuse, and family conflict.

Children and youth in homeless situations often do not fit society’s stereotypical
images. For example, many children who are homeless are very young; in
fact, over 40 percent of children living in homeless shelters are under the age
of five.6 In addition, emergency shelters in urban areas cannot meet the
rising need for temporary housing, turning away 52 percent of all requests for
emergency shelter by families. Rural areas often have no shelters at all.
As a result of the lack of shelter, most students in homeless situations share
housing with friends or relatives, stay in motels or other temporary facilities,
or live on the streets, in abandoned cars, and in woods and campgrounds.
Of the children and youth identified as homeless by State Departments
of Education in FY2000, only 35 percent lived in shelters, 34 percent
lived doubled-up with family or friends, and 23 percent lived in motels and
other locations.8 Yet, these children and youth may not immediately be
recognized as homeless and are sometimes denied the protections and services
of the McKinney-Vento Act. Therefore, the Act now contains a specific
definition of homelessness that includes a broad array of inadequate living
situations. This definition can help educators, families, and youth understand
who is entitled to the Act’s protections.

The issue brief entitled “Identifying Students in Homeless Situations” provides
strategies to locate and serve children and youth living in a variety of
homeless situations. Consult other issue briefs in this series for legal provisions
and implementation strategies to ensure children and youth in homeless
situations can select their school, enroll in school immediately, access transportation
services, have disputes resolved quickly, and access Title I services.

All definitions are contained, exactly
as written here, in McKinney-Vento
Act Sec. 725(2); 42 U.S.C. 11435(2).

“Children or youth who have run away
from home and live in runaway
shelters, abandoned buildings, the
streets, or other inadequate accommodations
are considered homeless,
even if their parents have provided
and are willing to provide a home
for them…. Throwaway children or
youth (i.e. those whose parents or
guardians will not permit them to
live at home) are considered homeless
if they live on the streets, in
shelters, or in other transitional or
inadequate accommodations.” U.S.
Department of Education Preliminary
Guidance for the Education
for Homeless Children and Youth
Program, Title VII, Subtitle B (June
1995), 22-3.


1 Burt, M. & Laudan, A. America’s Homeless II: Populations and Services, The Urban Institute, 2000.
2 U.S. Conference of Mayors. A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities: 2001.
3 National Low Income Housing Coalition. Out of Reach, 2001. www.nlihc.org/oor2001
4 Harvard University, Joint Center for Housing Studies, The State of the Nation’s Housing: 2001.
5 U.S. Conference of Mayors. A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities: 2001
6 Interagency Council on the Homeless. Homelessness: Programs and the People They Serve, Summary Report. December 1999.
7 U.S. Conference of Mayors. A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities: 2001
8 U.S. Department of Education. Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program Report to
Congress, 2000.

Every state is required to have a coordinator for the education of homeless
children and youth, and every school district is required to have a liaison for
homeless students. These individuals will assist you with
the implementation of the McKinney-Vento Act. To find out
who your state coordinator is, visit the NCHE website at

For further information on the McKinney-Vento Act and
resources for implementation, call the NCHE HelpLine at
800-308-2145 or e-mail homeless@serve.org.

Local contact information:

Calera Public Schools