JOURNEYS is dedicated to assisting all people in our service area experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless. This means that sometimes we work with children and their families who are facing hardship, instability, and housing insecurity.
All too often, homelessness and discrimination go hand-in-hand. One of the unique problems that unhoused or at-risk youths face is the sudden instability not only of shelter and basic needs, but also of their education. When youths and/or their families become unhoused, they often seek refuge outside their immediate community. This movement can exacerbate transportation issues or become at odds with a school district’s residential boundaries. Students may even lack the necessary documentation to become registered at a school due to unstable housing or frequent moves.
Luckily, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act helps to ensure that students can maintain access to their education regardless of their housing status. Passed in 1987, the Act is federal, bipartisan legislation that helped to crystallize homelessness as a "national problem requiring a national response" (National Coalition for the Homeless).
One of the major affordances of the Act is that it allows students to attend their school of origin—the school they attended before they began experiencing homelessness—regardless of their current residence in that district. This measure is important because access to a familiar learning environment has benefits on a student’s social-emotional learning. Furthermore, the Act requires that schools provide transportation to all students—regardless of their residence in the school district they are attending—to make attendance possible, a significant measure since many unhoused and at-risk families lack reliable transportation.
JOURNEYS operates the School Advocacy Program in compliance with the McKinney-Vento Act to ensure that each unhoused and at-risk youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education as their housed peers. JOURNEYS serves 29 local school districts.
The first goal of JOURNEYS’ School Assistance Program focuses on enrollment and attendance. It is critical to ensure that children experiencing housing insecurities do not fall behind academically. The first step to ensure their success is enrolling them in school. Through the School Advocacy Program we are able to waive school fees, secure transportation, and remove red tape to get each child learning as soon as possible.
The second goal is to maintain continuity for students. Due to financial hardships, families that are housing unstable may have to stay outside of the school district’s geographic area temporarily. The School Advocacy Program ensures district residency restrictions are lifted so that each child can stay in a familiar learning environment, avoiding the trauma of bouncing from school to school.
The third goal is maintaining open communication between the school and family. School officials and teachers are often unaware of the hardships that a student may be facing both inside and outside of school when a family is housing insecure. Challenges can often manifest as poor academic performance, social exclusion, chronic absenteeism, and behavioral troubles. Case managers work with the school to make sure that issues are addressed and resolved quickly.
The JOURNEYS community works to support children and keep them in school. We believe that every child is deserving of the same opportunities and resources regardless of circumstances beyond their control.
To get involved or donate to JOURNEYS' mission, visit our website: journeystheroadhome.org.
Written by Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate & Amanda Stocchetti, Grant Associate
Our blog contains original writing on issues related to homelessness, community happenings, and unique agency stories.