[Hpn] school for the homeless
Coalition on Homelessness, SF
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
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.
School Segregation and Homeless Children and Youth:
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
* 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
* 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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