Girl sitting outside

Childhood homelessness affects thousands of Orange County students

shutterstock_334540According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, California has the third highest rate of homeless children in the country.

In Orange County alone, school districts have identified 32,510 children and youth who do not have permanent homes.

Recent economic shifts and rising housing prices have been exceedingly tough on low-income families, and homeless rates continue to be alarming. Compounding matters, research indicates students experiencing homelessness are at a higher risk of chronic absenteeism, compromising efforts to break the cycle of poverty. (Indeed, more than 75 percent of California students who are chronically absent are low-income.)

Fortunately, schools are playing a major role in efforts to support the continuity of education for children of families who find themselves without a permanent residence, thanks in part to a federal law that’s been around for more than a decade.

The McKinney Vento Act of 2002 requires school districts to identify homeless students and guarantees the right of those students to stay in the last school attended. Schools also may assist with transportation services, sign up those students for a free or reduced nutrition programs, and calls for schools to immediately enroll homeless students – even if regularly required documentation is missing. Finally, the law designates a local homeless liaison to make sure the above provisions above are followed.

In 2003, the Orange County Department of Education developed the Homeless Outreach Promoting Educational Success, or HOPES, collaborative to help expand services and support for all Orange County public school districts. The collaborative works to remove educational barriers, increase school attendance and ultimately improve the academic success of homeless children and youth in partnership with the Orange County Homeless Prevention office, Orange County school districts, law enforcement agencies, homeless shelter providers and community and faith-based organizations.

The HOPES collaborative provides technical support and professional development opportunities for Orange County school districts through their homeless liaisons. In addition, the collaborative facilitates homeless liaison network meetings to offer districts updates from the state and federal government; share best practices and resources; problem-solve issues; educate school staff and community service providers about McKinney Vento Act requirements; and coordinate and develop effective strategies for homeless children, youth and families to access government and community services.

You can learn more about the McKinney Vento Act and the work of the HOPES collaborative here, and the California Department of Education has resources related to homeless student rights.