[Hpn] school for the homeless

Coalition on Homelessness, SF coh@sfo.com
Fri, 15 Sep 2000 11:45:05 -0700


School Segregation and Homeless Children and Youth:
Questions and Answers

What do We Mean By School Segregation?

For purposes of this document, integrated homeless education programs 
are those programs that help homeless children enroll, attend, and 
succeed in mainstream schools. Segregated classrooms or schools, by 
contrast, are those that separate homeless children from housed 
children on the basis of their homelessness alone.

What does Federal Law Say About School Segregation and Homeless 
Children and Youth?
Homeless children and youth have a federal right to a free, 
appropriate public education. The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless 
Assistance Act 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. The Act also 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.

Today, thousands of schools across the country have eliminated these 
barriers, and have successfully supported homeless children's 
enrollment, attendance, and success in mainstream schools.

Why do Segregated Schools for Homeless Children and Youth Persist?

Continuing barriers to homeless children's mainstream school 
education have resulted in many homeless children being relegated to 
classrooms in shelters, or other "homeless-only" facilities. Commonly 
cited barriers include school registration requirements that prevent 
timely enrollment and lack of transportation for homeless children. 
Other justifications for segregating homeless children include 
promoting stability, protecting children from ridicule, providing 
social services, offering individual attention, and addressing safety 

Today, at least 40 segregated programs have been identified and 
studied.1 While this represents a small minority of homeless 
education programs -- the norm is inclusion in the mainstream school 
environment -- school segregation represents serious cause for 
concern, as discussed below.

Why is it Important for Homeless Children and Youth to Attend 
Mainstream Schools?

Two recent national reports provide us with the most comprehensive 
information on integrated and segregated homeless education programs. 
The first, published in 1999, is a survey of almost 500 local school 
districts that operate integrated homeless education programs; the 
second, published in 2000, is a survey of segregated educational 
programs for homeless children across the nation.2 Together, these 
surveys provide compelling information about the educational 
practices that work best for homeless children, as well as those 
practices that compromise their education and healthy development.

The available information demonstrates that mainstream schools are 
better able to meet the needs of homeless children, and to serve more 
children, than "homeless-only" schools or classrooms. Moreover, 
segregating homeless children from their non-homeless peers is 
harmful in numerous ways.

QUALITY OF EDUCATION: In the majority of cases, mainstream schools 
provide better educational opportunities for homeless children and 
youth. Most "homeless-only" programs provide vastly inferior 
educational opportunities. A survey of over 40 segregated classrooms 
or schools found that the following features typify segregated 
educational programs:

*	Most "homeless-only" schools operate as one-room classrooms 
with children of differing ages and grades grouped together under one 
teacher. Children in these settings are deprived of the opportunity 
to be placed in age- and grade-appropriate classrooms.

*	Many segregated schools do not follow the standards and 
curricula prescribed by state or local educational agencies. Homeless 
children are thus unable to perform on an equal footing with their 

*	The majority of segregated classrooms or schools do not have 
the capabilities to provide students with the full range of 
educational programs to which they are entitled, such as special 
education, gifted and talented, or bi-lingual education.

*	Most segregated schools do not employ teachers who are 
certified to teach all the grades for which they are responsible. In 
addition, segregated schools typically do not offer the same level of 
professional development for teachers as their public school 

Very few segregated programs are able to approximate the scope and 
quality of educational services provided by mainstream schools, and 
very few have comparable resources. Those few programs that come 
closest to matching the quality of education provided by mainstream 
schools still cannot match the stability, socialization, and other 
opportunities offered by mainstream schools.

In addition, survey information from almost 500 integrated homeless 
education programs demonstrates that supplemental educational 
services such as after-school tutoring are very effective in helping 
homeless children improve grades and succeed on statewide assessment 

Positive Practices: The Amphitheater Public School District "Youth on 
Their Own Project" in Tucson, Arizona, reported that 60% of the 
homeless children in the program, all of whom attend mainstream 
schools, increased their GPA, while 25% remained the same, and that 
the drop-out rate is less than 10%. In Texas, at least 50% of Houston 
Independent School District's homeless program students passed all 
three statewide assessment exams; on the writing exam, participants 
outscored the total student population (83%-77%). Brentwood Union 
Free School District, New York, reported attendance increased by 16%, 
elementary reading by 6%, and elementary math by 12%, while high 
school course failures decreased by 19%, lateness decreased by 39%, 
and behavior referrals decreased by 53%.

SOCIALIZATION: Schools do more than educate children -- they play a 
key role in the socialization process that helps prepare children to 
function in society as adults.

Mainstream schools accomplish this by providing a diverse social 
environment and a wide range of extra-curricular activities and 
events that are an important part of healthy development (such as 
sports, music, associations, proms, and graduations). "Homeless-only" 
classrooms or schools provide an unnatural social environment where 
all students are grouped by income, housing, and often racial status. 
In addition, they do not provide the extracurricular opportunities 
offered by mainstream schools. Segregated programs therefore deprive 
homeless children of key aspects of a "normal" childhood.

Positive Practices: In Barnstable Public Schools in Hyannis, 
Massachusetts, homeless students join the schools' after school 
programs and spend time with their peers cooking, playing sports, 
arts/crafts, etc. Bus transportation is provided. Travel is available 
for swim lessons at the YMCA. In Austin, Texas, the homeless 
education program provides assistance for homeless students to have 
caps and gowns for graduation ceremonies.

REMOVAL OF BARRIERS: Integrated homeless education programs have 
successfully removed policy and practical barriers to homeless 
children's education. Segregated schools or classrooms, on the other 
hand, often acquiese to and perpetuate the barriers that prevent 
homeless children from enrolling and attending mainstream schools.

For example, in some communities, segregated schools have existed for 
so long that state and local educational agencies no longer question 
their existence, despite the fact that the schools or classrooms 
arose due to the barriers that homeless children faced in accessing 
mainstream schools. In addition, some segregated programs fail to 
challenge rules or policies that act as barriers to homeless 
children's school enrollment and attendance, but rather cite them as 
reasons that justify the program's existence. In just one example, 
the Thomas J. Pappas school in Phoenix, Arizona has justified its 
existence in part by pointing to residency requirements and other 
barriers that illegally prevent homeless children from going to 
mainstream schools. Yet the school has not acted to challenge or 
remove these barriers. Thus, the majority of homeless children in 
Phoenix continue to face barriers accessing school; given the limited 
abilities of the Pappas school to reach all homeless children in 
Phoenix, many children may be left with no educational options at all.

Many mainstream schools, however, have successfully changed school 
policy and practice to remove barriers that homeless children face, 
including residency requirements, immunization requirements, delays 
in the transfer of school records, and lack of transportation. 
According to a recent national survey, the most frequently reported 
success by integrated homeless education programs was providing 
access to school. Programs specifically cited the removal of 
enrollment barriers; provision of enrollment assistance; and 
documented increases in attendance.

Positive Practices: Selma City Schools, Alabama, reported an overall 
27% increase in attendance for the children in their homeless 
education program, all of whom attend mainstream schools; children 
attending the tutoring program in Pomona Unified School District, 
California, have increased their attendance from 90 to 97%; and 
Sarasota County School District, Florida, reports that school 
enrollment and attendance at shelters served by their integrated 
homeless education program have increased by 30%.

STABILITY: A major barrier to homeless children's educational success 
is the high mobility of homeless families, who move frequently due to 
limitations on length of shelter stays, or in search of housing and 

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 lives.3

In contrast, attending a "homeless-only" school for some or all of 
the duration of their homelessness causes children to lose their 
friends, teachers, and their normal daily experience. Having to 
change schools when a child becomes homeless, and then again when a 
child becomes housed, increases the loss and instability in homeless 
children's lives.

Positive Practice: In Victoria, Texas, the school district adopted a 
"one child, one school, one year" policy to ensure that children 
maintain educational continuity regardless of family mobility. 
Initially the policy applied only to homeless students, but after 
massive flooding, was extended to all students. The result: an 
increase in daily attendance, an increase in state education dollars, 
and increase in statewide assessment test scores.

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 who 
do not tell them of their right to go to mainstream schools, or who 
fail to provide them with any assistance to do so. In other cases, 
families are referred to the segregated school or classroom by a 
public school that will not accept them, in violation of federal law. 
For example, some elementary and middle schools in Phoenix, Arizona 
routinely refer homeless children who try to enroll in their schools 
to the Thomas J. Pappas School, a "homeless-only" school for children 
grades K-10, rather than enroll them. In these instances, families 
are unable to exercise their legal right to choose the school that is 
in the best interest of their child. Similarly, families in motels 
whose children are provided with transportation to the Pappas school, 
but not to regular mainstream schools, are not provided with a real 
school choice for their children.

Integrated homeless education programs operating in mainstream 
schools, however, train parents and school personnel to understand 
and exercise their school selection rights. Not only do these 
programs help schools comply with federal law, they also allow 
parents to make important choices about what is in the best interest 
of their child.

Positive Practice: In Miami-Dade County, Florida, the homeless 
education program disseminates informational parent brochures in 
three languages (Spanish, Creole, and English) so that parents know 
their children's rights and the choices that are available to them. 
Gaston County Schools in Gaston, North Carolina includes parental 
education on their children's rights as part of its comprehensive 
homeless education program.

OUTREACH AND IDENTIFICATION: Mainstream schools are in the best 
position to 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 locations.

Most homeless children do not live in shelters or other easily 
identifiable locations, but rather live in inexpensive motels, 
campgrounds, or cars, or temporarily share housing with relatives or 
friends. In fact, according to the most recent U.S. Department of 
Education Report to Congress, only a third of homeless children and 
youth live in shelters. In part, this reflects a lack of shelter 
capacity; according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, in 1999, 37% of 
all requests for emergency shelter by families went unmet due to lack 
of space. In rural areas, there may be no family shelters. In 
addition, the fear, embarrassment, and humiliation associated with 
homelessness prevents families from seeking assistance, as well as 
from disclosing their homeless status.

In response to the invisibility of most homeless children, integrated 
homeless education programs in mainstream schools have developed 
successful methods of training school personnel to recognize signs of 
homelessness, and therefore assist "hidden" homeless children with 
appropriate supplies, services, and referrals. Some of these programs 
also provide extensive outreach to help identify homeless children 
and youth who are not in school. In this way, integrated homeless 
education programs assist many children and families who would not 
otherwise receive help.

In contrast, "homeless-only" schools serve only a small proportion of 
homeless children in the community -- typically only those who seek 
and are able to get into shelters. Those few schools who are able to 
recruit families from non-shelter locations still cannot reach the 
majority of homeless children in their communities.

Positive Practice: The YWCA School, a segregated school for homeless 
children in Spokane, WA, provided educational services to 104 
homeless children in 1998-1999. Spokane School District 81 closed the 
YWCA school the following year, in recognition of federal 
requirements to mainstream homeless students. The district began 
training school personnel to serve homeless students in an integrated 
fashion, including awareness-raising about signs of homelessness, the 
federal law, and who to contact for help. In the first year of 
mainstreaming, the school served 340 children - more than three times 
as many as had been served by the segregated program.

SUPPORT SERVICES: Information gathered in a national survey of almost 
500 integrated homeless education programs demonstrates that 
mainstream schools can provide a comprehensive array of support 
services to homeless children and youth with discretion and dignity. 
Mainstream schools across the country are successfully providing 
tutoring, counseling, clothing, school supplies, and other needed 
services to homeless children, while at the same time helping their 
families with referrals to existing community resources for food, 
shelter, and health care.

In contrast, the majority of "homeless-only" schools do not have a 
wide range of resources at their disposal. Those few programs that do 
have resources only provide support to the small proportion of their 
community's homeless children who attend their program, and only for 
as long as the children stay enrolled in their program.

Positive Practice: In California, the West Contra Costa Unified 
School District provides a wide array of educational support services 
to homeless children. These services reflect a coordinated effort of 
students, parents, teachers, district support services, 
community-based organizations, social services, health services and 
private business in the community. Services provided include 
tutoring, academic assessments at school and shelter sites, 
transportation vouchers, Saturday School, Summer School, Parenting 
classes, enrollment assistance, assistance to access necessary 
support services (e.g., health and social services), referrals to 
supplemental education services, preschool programs, 800 Hotline 
number for families in need, awareness workshops on homelessness for 
classified, certified staff and community groups, and mental health.

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. In addition, these schools or classrooms produce a 
visible concentration of children who are experiencing homelessness, 
and who are isolated only because they are homeless.

Indeed, it was the objections and litigation by homeless parents in 
Vancouver, Washington and Chicago, Illinois that lead to the closings 
of segregated classrooms in those communities. More recently, parents 
in Spokane, Washington expressed relief at the closing of a 
"homeless-only" school there; one parent cried because she had been 
afraid to tell anyone of her family's homeless status for fear that 
her children would be sent to the "homeless" school.

Homeless education programs in mainstream schools address stigma by 
ensuring that homeless children have the same supplies, clothing, and 
materials as non-homeless children, allowing them to "fit in" and be 
like everyone else.

Positive Practices: The St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont, 
Colorado, provides over 200 backpacks filled with school supplies to 
homeless children; the Carson City School District in Carson City, 
Nevada, provides 15-25 students per month with clothing and hygiene 
products; last year it provided 205 pairs of shoes to children in 

Many programs also successfully implement teacher trainings and staff 
development to raise awareness and sensitize school personnel to the 
impact of homelessness on their students. Other programs use 
curricula and community service activities to sensitize housed 
students to the plight of their homeless peers. These kinds of 
activities have proven effective in fostering greater understanding, 
awareness, and sensitivity.

Positive Practices: Baltimore County Public Schools in Baltimore, 
Maryland provide extensive professional development throughout the 
school system, and have been especially successful at helping school 
secretaries gain sensitivity to homeless families and children when 
they enter the school system. The Baltimore County Schools also 
provide community service activities to help housed students gain a 
greater understanding of homelessness issues.

RACIAL AND ECONOMIC INTEGRATION: Homelessness is an extreme form of 
poverty; people who are mostly likely to experience homelessness are 
those most at risk of poverty. In the United States today, minority 
families are more likely to experience poverty than white families. 
Minority children are thus disproportionately represented among the 
homeless population. Therefore, schools that enroll only homeless 
children are not only segregating children by economic and housing 
status, they are also likely to be segregating children by race or 

Positive Practice: A segregated school for homeless children in St. 
Paul, Minnesota was closed down as the result of objections from the 
superintendent because the vast majority of the children who attended 
it were African-American. The children have since been successfully 
integrated into mainstream schools.

Homeless families and children face widespread discrimination and 
bias based on their housing, economic, and racial status. In some 
communities, schools may be reluctant to enroll homeless children and 
youth because of this bias, and therefore welcome the creation of 
segregated schools as a way of not having homeless children and youth 
present in their classrooms. This racism/classism may be an 
underlying factor behind the persistence of some "homeless-only" 
classrooms or schools.

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. In so doing, they 
can address safety concerns and provide equal educational 
opportunities without causing further disruption in children's lives.

Positive Practice: The following example illustrates the 
comprehensive measures integrated homeless education programs take to 
ensure the safety and care of homeless children.

"Let me tell you about one child I've worked with this year. Her name 
is Hannah and she came to live in our town's battered women's shelter 
one night in March with her mother and baby sister. They left their 
abusive home in the middle of the night, so of course Hannah arrived 
without school books, school shoes, or any school records. As their 
advocate, I helped Hannah's mom to enroll her in school in our county 
the very next day. I reminded school personnel that homeless children 
are protected under the McKinney Act so that they enrolled her 
without delay. Next, I gave Hannah a backpack and school supplies 
purchased with McKinney dollars. That afternoon, I set up an 
appointment for Hannah to get new school shoes from a group of church 
women in our community that buy shoes for needy children. Next, I set 
up school bus transportation for Hannah at a secret pick up and drop 
off spot to ensure her safety and anonymity. Finally, I educated the 
school staff and the bus driver about her special circumstances.

I saw Hannah just the other day at school. You would never know from 
the bright look on her face what living hell she's been through this 
year. She stood there in the hallway at school happy, learning, and 
with the opportunity to forget about her homelessness when she walks 
in those doors. I asked Hannah what makes her enjoy school, and she 
told me that it was the special help and attention she received from 
school staff. She told me that the lunch room lady, her teachers, and 
others wink and smile at her each day." - School Social Worker, 
Homeless Education Program, Clarke County School District, Athens, 

What Happens to Homeless Children When Segregated Schools Close?

*	Buffalo, New York: The Cornerstone Manor School operated a 
separate classroom in a shelter from 1990 until May 2000. In May 
2000, the New York State Department of Education and the Buffalo 
School District agreed that the school violated the McKinney Act's 
equal access and mainstreaming provisions, and that it should cease 
operation. Cornerstone Manor had previously only served up to 16 
children at a time; a new needs assessment revealed the presence of 
1,500 homeless children in the district. The district has received a 
McKinney homeless education grant and has begun work on implementing 
an integrated homeless education program.

*	Charlotte, North Carolina: A Child's Place, a non-profit 
organization, is a former segregated school that now helps identify 
homeless children and helps them to enroll in mainstream schools. A 
Child's Place also operates as a resource center for homeless 
families, providing food, clothing, hygiene, school supplies, 
referrals, and tutoring. A Child's Place has found that the homeless 
children attending mainstream schools experience fewer behavioral 
problems, a decrease in fighting among children, and increased 
opportunities for normal peer relationships. Since closing the 
school, the number of homeless children assisted has increased by 15%.

*	Chicago, Illinois: In the course of a litigating a lawsuit 
against the Chicago Board of Education, homeless parents complained 
about an elementary school's refusal to admit their children and the 
school's referral of their children to a classroom within a shelter. 
The litigation revealed that the classroom increased disruption, 
failed to meet the needs of children with disabilities, and provided 
inadequate curricula and books. The Chicago Board of Education agreed 
to close the school as part of a larger settlement. Homeless children 
now attend either their school of origin, or the school in the area 
in which they are living.

*	St. Paul, Minnesota: From 1997-1999, many homeless children 
were placed in the New Arrivals "homeless-only" school by the St. 
Paul School District, often due to lack of school records. The school 
was closed in June of 1999 after the superintendent objected to the 
school's de facto racial segregation. Since the school's closing, the 
St. Paul Title I Homeless Education Program has worked to keep 
children stable in their school of origin. In addition, the program 
provides supplemental academic assistance through after-school 
tutoring in an extended-day program. The school district is in the 
process of revising its policies to allow for increased educational 
access for homeless children.

*	San Antonio, Texas: For approximately 7 years, the San 
Antonio Independent School District operated a segregated classroom 
for homeless children in an emergency shelter. After the 
Superintendent decided to close the school down, the district began 
providing transportation, enrollment assistance, and after-school 
tutorial support. The children have been successfully integrated into 
mainstream schools for the past four years.

*	Spokane, Washington: For nine years, the YWCA in Spokane 
operated a segregated school for homeless children that enrolled 
children from nearby emergency shelters. After concerns about the 
isolation and poor academic services at the school, the school ceased 
operation in 1999, and all homeless children were enrolled in 
mainstream schools. The first year of transition has been highly 
successful in identifying and serving homeless children. In fact, 
last year the district served three times as many children as under 
the segregated model. The YWCA continues to fund-raise for school 
supplies and offers an after-school tutoring program.

*	Vancouver, Washington: For several years, Vancouver School 
District 37 maintained a separate classroom for homeless children in 
a public elementary school. After several parents protested the 
placement of their children in the segregated classroom, the school 
integrated the children into regular classrooms. The district has 
found the closing of the "homeless-only" classroom to be very 
beneficial; in fact, the school principals now find that the homeless 
children are among the most stable in their schools.

*	Victoria, Texas: As a result of barriers to mainstream school 
education, the Victoria Youth Home operated a segregated classroom 
for students who resided at the shelter. The shelter classroom was 
closed down in 1998 after a newly appointed school district homeless 
education coordinator objected to the unequal education provided to 
the students. The shelter director and homeless education coordinator 
worked with the school district to provide extensive teacher 
training, communication, and transportation. Today, both the shelter 
director and homeless education coordinator report that the children 
are receiving a better education, and are having a better social 


1. Separate and Unequal: A Report on Educational Barriers for 
Homeless Children & Youth, National Law Center on Homelessness & 
Poverty, 2000 [Back].

2. 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].

3.Under federal law, homeless children and youth have the right to 
remain in their original school, to the extent feasible, if it is 
determined to be in their best interest to do so. [Back].

For more information, please contact Barbara Duffield at NCH at 
202.737.6444, ext. 312, or email at nch@ari.net.

>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