[Hpn] school for the homeless

Coalition on Homelessness, SF coh@sfo.com
Fri, 15 Sep 2000 11:44:42 -0700

I hope these postings might serve to help educate some folks about 
some of the dangers and pitfalls of permitting segregated schools for 
homeless children.

You should also email Barbara Duffield at the National Coalition to 
get her input. She is very passionate about this subject, as is 
anyone familiar with the destructive effects segregated schools can 
have on homeless kids. The last time I was in DC, Barbara showed me a 
sheaf of letters from homeless schoolkids to members of Congress and 
the Senate detailing how important attending a mainstream school was 
for them, how it often represented the only "normal" feature of an 
otherwise grim and chaotic life.

They were very moving then, as now.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with disability law understands the 
basis of WHY we've learned not to sort kids out into different boxes. 
Disabled kids are similarly perceived to be on the "bottom of the 
pecking order." Public schools are the places where we can teach kids 
better than to judge another by his or her circumstances, and not 
someplace where we reinforce stigma and alienization.

I always try to do my research first. Doing homeless advocacy, I've 
learned that nobody much cares about what "I think" unless I can back 
it up with something a bit more substantial than my suppositions. And 
I would interview at least a few dozen homeless kids about what THEY 
want before I would feel comfortable that I knew what's "good" for 

Otherwise, I might as well be Dr. Laura.


chance martin


School Segregation and Homeless Children and Youth:
An Overview

This overview summarizes available information on integrated homeless 
education programs (those programs that help homeless children 
enroll, attend, and succeed in mainstream schools) and segregated 
classrooms or schools (those that separate homeless children from 
housed children on the basis of their homelessness alone).1

For more detailed information, including program examples, please see 
School Segregation and Homeless Children and Youth: Questions and 

The Law: Homeless children and youth have a federal right to a free, 
appropriate public education. The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless 
Assistance Act requires states to identify and remove barriers to 
homeless children's education, such as residency requirements, school 
records requirements, delays in transfer of school records, and lack 
of transportation. The Act also prohibits the separation of homeless 
children from the mainstream school environment based on their 
homeless status, and requires states to ensure that homeless children 
are not isolated or stigmatized.

Current Status: Since the passage of the McKinney Act in 1987, 
thousands of schools across the country have eliminated barriers to 
homeless children's education, and have successfully supported 
homeless children's enrollment, attendance, and success in mainstream 
schools. Continuing barriers to homeless children's mainstream school 
education, however, have resulted in many homeless children being 
relegated to classrooms in shelters, or other "homeless-only" 

Comparison of Integrated and Segregated Education Programs:

*	Quality of Education: In the majority of cases, mainstream 
schools provide better educational opportunities. Many 
"homeless-only" programs do not follow standard curricula, do not 
employ licensed teachers, and do not provide the full range of 
educational programs to which homeless children are entitled.

*	Socialization: Schools not only educate children, but also 
provide them with important social skills. Mainstream schools 
accomplish this by providing a diverse social environment, and a wide 
range of extra-curricular activities and events that are a key part 
of healthy development (such as sports, music, associations, proms, 
and graduations). "Homeless-only" classrooms or schools do not 
provide such opportunities, and therefore deprive homeless children 
of key aspects of a "normal" childhood.

*	Removal of Barriers: Integrated homeless education programs 
have successfully removed barriers to homeless children's education. 
Segregated schools or classrooms acquiese to and perpetuate barriers 
that prevent homeless children from enrolling and attending 
mainstream schools.

*	Stability: Most children attend mainstream schools prior to 
becoming homeless. Staying in the same school that they were 
attending before they became homeless promotes stability and 
educational continuity -- significant factors in academic 
achievement. It also allows children to keep the same friends, daily 
routine, etc., and thus limits the social and emotional disruption 
caused by homelessness. Attending "homeless-only" classrooms or 
schools adds one more unnecessary disruption to homeless children's 

*	School Choice: Homeless children have a right to attend 
either the school they were going to before they become homeless, or 
the school in the area where they are currently living, depending on 
which school is determined to be in the best interest of the child. 
Parents whose children attend school in "homeless-only" facilities, 
however, are usually automatically referred by service providers or 
other schools, and are therefore rarely provided with a real choice 
about what school is in their children's best interest.

*	Outreach and Identification: Mainstream schools are in the 
best position to identify and serve all homeless children, regardless 
of where they live. Segregated schools or classrooms cannot identify 
and serve all homeless children in the community because such schools 
enroll only children living in shelters or other easily identifiable 

*	Support Services: Mainstream schools can provide a 
comprehensive array of support services with discretion and dignity, 
such as food, clothing, and health care. The majority of 
"homeless-only" schools do not have a wide range of resources at 
their disposal.

*	Stigma: Some programs justify segregating homeless children 
and youth in order to protect children from ridicule. However, being 
identified with a "homeless only" school may exacerbate the stigma 
associated with homelessness. Integrated homeless education programs 
address stigma by ensuring that homeless children have the same 
supplies, clothing, and materials as non-homeless children, allowing 
them to "fit in" with their housed peers.

*	Racial and Economic Integration: Mainstream schools are more 
likely to be integrated racially and economically. As a consequence 
of the demographics of poverty in the United States, schools that 
enroll only homeless children not only segregate children by economic 
and housing status, they are also likely to be segregating children 
by race or ethnicity.

*	Safety: Some programs justify segregating homeless children 
and youth in order to protect children and their families who are 
fleeing domestic violence. However, it is not necessary to segregate 
homeless children in order to protect them. Schools are responsible 
for the safety of all children, including those who are victims of 
domestic violence, regardless of their housing status. Mainstream 
schools can respond to safety concerns by training school staff on 
confidentiality laws and policies, helping families to file copies of 
protective orders with schools, and taking the necessary practical 
steps to ensure anonymity and safety of children.


1. This document is based on survey research contained in the 
following reports: Making the Grade: Successes and Challenges in 
Providing Educational Opportunities to Homeless Children and Youth, 
National Association for the Education of Homeless Children & Youth 
and National Coalition for the Homeless, 1999 and Separate and 
Unequal: A Report on Educational Barriers for Homeless Children & 
Youth, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, 2000. [Back].


For more information, please contact Barbara Duffield at NCH at 
202.737.6444, ext. 312, or email at nch@ari.net. See also School 
Segregation and Homeless Children and Youth: Questions and Answers.

>I think that this school for homeless children is a
>wonderful idea, and should be used as a model in other
>The way you desribe this school, it is neither
>discriminatory, nor is it segregative(?).
>Actually, in most "integrated" public schools, just
>the opposite is true. Because homeless children are at
>the "bottom of the pecking order", in most public
>schools, because of their economic/social status, they
>are more likely to suffer the ridicule and teasing
>from other children in the public school system than
>those that are housed.
>Also, as most homeless families are transient in the
>sense that they will move from place to place in even
>the same city, the children will be moved from school
>to school disrupting the flow of learning...
>This school for homeless children sounds like a
>definite solution rather than a "band-aid" approach to
>help these children achieve a quality and consistent
>Keep up the good work!!!!!
>Peace and Solidarity;
>Do You Yahoo!?
>Yahoo! Mail - Free email you can access from anywhere!

Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
vox: (415) 346.3740
Fax: (415) 775.5639