FAQ on COVID-19 and Homelessness

 

We’ve received many questions from educators, service providers, and the public about COVID-19 and homeless students. This Frequently Asked Questions document compiles our best responses to the questions we’ve received, as well as strategies and practices from educators and providers across the country who have participated in our virtual conversations. We’ll continue to update this FAQ regularly.

Checklist for Local Education Agencies and Early Childhood Providers

 

For children and youth experiencing homelessness, early childhood settings and school may be the only source of food, education, health and mental health services, caring adults, and a safe place to be during the day. When schools and early learning programs close, the health, safety, and well-being of homeless children and youth are jeopardized. Moreover, children and youth experiencing homelessness are extremely mobile, and stay in situations that make it impossible for them to self-isolate, or to recover should they fall ill. They often lack access to wifi or technology necessary for online learning, or a stable place in which to learn.

All COVID-19 responses must proactively incorporate outreach to homeless families and unaccompanied youth, including those who are staying in “hidden” homeless situations. These families and youth are unlikely to benefit from initiatives that are predicated on a stable and safe home environment, consistent internet access, or reliable transportation.

Strategies for Schools and Early Learning Programs 

 

Public elementary and secondary schools identified and enrolled over 1.5 million children and youth experiencing homelessness in the 2017-2018 school year. For most of these students, school is their only safety net, offering food, education, health and mental health services, caring adults, and a safe place to be during the day. Additionally, an estimated 1.4 million children under age six experience homelessness.

Schools and early childhood programs offer stability and safety. When schools and early learning programs close, or move to online learning, the health, safety, and well-being of homeless children and youth are jeopardized.

 

  • According to federal education data, approximately 12% of homeless children and youth were staying in shelters when they were first identified as homeless by schools. Shelters are often crowded, with little privacy, and limited ability for families or youth to self-isolate.
  • More than 80% of homeless children and youth were staying with other people temporarily, or in motels, when they were first identified as homeless by schools, because shelters are not available or have restrictions on family composition or on unaccompanied minors, or because parents and youth are afraid of shelter conditions and/or child welfare involvement.
  • Most families and youth experiencing homelessness in these situations will neither be able to self-quarantine, nor will they have a stable place to recover should they fall ill.
  • Children and youth experiencing homelessness are already at high risk of trafficking, predation, and harm; these risks increase when they have no safe, stable place to go during the school day.
  • In many states, unaccompanied minors experiencing homelessness cannot consent to their own routine medical care.
  • Regardless of whether they are staying in shelters, motels, with other people, or in unsheltered situations, many families and youth experiencing homelessness will not have access to wifi or technology necessary for online learning, or a stable place in which to learn. 

Strategies for Safety, Services, and Learning

 

All early learning, school, and community COVID-19 responses should proactively and intentionally incorporate outreach to homeless families and unaccompanied youth, including those who are staying in “hidden” homeless situations. These families and youth are unlikely to benefit from services, initiatives, or educational programming predicated on a stable and safe home environment, consistent internet access, or on reliable transportation.

Identification and Services in School and Early Childhood Programs

Under federal law, local educational agencies (LEAs) are required to designate a liaison with specific responsibilities for identifying homeless students and connecting them to school and community resources. Head Start and Early Head Start programs, and federally-funded child care programs, also are required to identify and provide outreach to families experiencing homelessness. LEAs and early childhood programs should:

  • Support staff in providing outreach to families and youth currently identified as homeless, to monitor their needs and living situations during times of school closure or virtual learning, and to assist them in accessing services.
  • Make additional efforts to proactively identify families and youth who are experiencing homelessness, but who are not yet known to the LEA or early childhood program, including through sensitively-worded housing screening questions and communications to all families. 

Ensuring Safety and Basic Needs Outside of School and Early Childhood Programs

  • In coordination with public and private agencies, including faith-based organizations, identify safe and stable housing options for families and youth who need them. Some families and youth who are staying with other people in unstable and/or dangerous situations may be better able to self-quarantine and/or recover in motel settings; explore the use of vouchers for safe motels.
  • Help families and youth experiencing homelessness identify safe options for quarantining, and how to access food and other services, before schools or early learning programs close.
  • Increase early childhood, school, and community-based organization staffing , with appropriate safety precautions, to reach homeless families and youth where they are staying. Families and youth experiencing homelessness are unlikely to have transportation resources to travel to locations where food, medicines, or other supports are provided. Visits to support physical and mental wellness, provide hygiene supplies, deliver food and other necessities, and provide educational check-ins are essential.
  • Work with community partners to identify sites (schools, libraries, etc.) that can remain open for accessing food, health care, and other services for families and youth who can travel to a central location. Offer transportation assistance to those sites.
  • Provide pre-paid cell phones to unaccompanied youth and to families who may have no other means of communication. Be sure the phones have both calling minutes and unlimited high-speed data, so students can use them to access online assignments.
  • Deliver items necessary for proper hygiene (soap, sanitizer, etc.), clean clothing and diapers to families and youth where they are, as well as have those supplies, and laundry facilities, available in central locations.
  • Disseminate information on COVID-19 prevention, symptoms, care, and testing in a variety of ways and locations, in order to reach highly mobile and homeless families and youth.
  • Support counselors with extra hours and access to basic needs supplies, as essential school staff who can maintain relationships with children and youth while schools are closed, and monitor safety/well-being.
  • Provide information to youth and families on how to recognize, avoid, and report trafficking and other predatory behavior.

Access to Learning

  • Review and implement the requirements of the McKinney-Vento Act, including the requirements for states and LEAs to review and revise policies that act as barriers to identification, enrollment, and retention in school and school activities.
  • Provide mobile hotspots and laptops/tablets to shelters, motels, and directly to families and youth who are staying with other people.
  • Be flexible with deadlines and participation requirements, accommodating students who are highly mobile and/or cannot participate in online learning opportunities due to homeless living situations. 
  • Remove barriers that may be caused by guardianship requirements, allowing unaccompanied youth to participate fully in classes and school activities.

Addressing Mental Health Needs

 

Higher Education Resource: COVID-19 Response for Youth Who Are Homeless or in Foster Care

[Co-authored with the Juvenile Law Center and The Hope Center]

Many students who have experienced homelessness or foster care do not have a strong support system to which they can turn to in times of crisis. They may not have a caring adult to call for advice or information on how to keep safe and healthy. This lack of familial support can mean they do not have help to prepare in times of a public health crisis, nor manage the additional life stressors the crisis brings. COVID-19 is affecting many people of all ages, but students are especially vulnerable and cannot be overlooked.

This guide aims to provide concrete tips and resources in order to support students who are homeless or with experience in foster care during the COVID-19 crisis in order to promote health and educational success.

Upcoming Webinars

Weekly Virtual Conversation with SHC on COVID-19: Questions, Strategies, Information

We’re going live weekly to share the latest we know about the federal and local responses to COVID-19 and children, youth and families experiencing homelessness. We want to hear what you’re doing, what’s working, and your challenges. We also want to provide a space to share and be together.

Thursdays, 4:00 – 5:15PM ET

Archived Webinars

Virtual Conversation with SHC on COVID-19 #3: Questions, Strategies, Information
Date Recorded: April 2, 2020

Watch the recorded webinar
Download the Powerpoint

Federal Policy Update: Coronavirus Funding and Policy on Child and Youth Homelessness
Date Recorded: April 1, 2020

Congress has enacted several packages of sweeping legislation and funding to help communities respond to the coronavirus outbreak. Learn about the latest developments, get your questions answered, and find out what you can do to shape implementation and help direct resources for children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness.
Watch the recorded webinar
Download the Powerpoint

Virtual Conversation with SHC on COVID-19 #2: Questions, Strategies, Information
Date recorded: March 25, 2020

Watch the recorded webinar
Download the Powerpoint

Virtual Conversation with SHC on COVID-19 #1: Questions, Strategies, Information
Date recorded: March 19, 2020

Watch the recorded webinar
Download the Powerpoint

Policy Updates

  • On Friday, March 27, the president signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), H.R. 748. This $2 trillion package includes a wide range of funding and policy measures to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, including to address the early care, education, and emergency housing needs of children, youth, and families.
  • On Wednesday, March 18, President Trump signed into law “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” (H.R. 6201). The legislation guarantees free coronavirus testing, secures paid emergency leave, enhances Unemployment Insurance, strengthens food security initiatives, and increases federal Medicaid funding to states. Another measure, still in development, would address broader economic and emergency needs, including funding and policy related to early childhood, K-12, higher education, housing, and homelessness assistance. SHC is deeply involved and advocating strongly for policies and funding to protect the health, safety, education, and well-being of children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness.

Supporting Our Students Amidst the Unknown: Evolving Lessons During COVID-19

 

[Written by Jordyn Roark, Director of Youth Leadership and Scholarships, SchoolHouse Connection]

“As a college student, I experienced a devastating hurricane, where most of the town I lived in was flooded. I remember this experience as being scary, filled with loss, and ultimately extremely traumatic — especially on top of the trauma of my own homelessness. As I navigate my current professional role supporting students who are homeless during the Coronavirus outbreak, I have been reflecting on my experiences as a student. COVID-19 is like an untraceable hurricane. While confronting the tremendous uncertainty of when and how it will end, I have been asking myself “How do we best support our students amidst the unknown?” Like many, I have been doing my best to navigate this unfamiliar territory, day by day. In just a few weeks, I have learned a lot. I’d like to share some of the strategies I have used to support our SchoolHouse Connection scholars and young leaders in the hopes that it will help others, as well as begin to build a foundation for best practices in the midst of a global pandemic.”

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