Jan 27, 2024

Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness: A National Need

hand holding small, cut-out house

By Kim Anderson, Ph.D. and Paticia A. Popp, Ph.D.

Taking stock of the issue 

In addition to experiencing a high level of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), students experiencing homelessness often need multiple types of support to help them cope with intensive challenges such as chronic stress, experiences of violence, fear of stigma, and feelings of disconnection from school and isolation from peers. They may need assistance with clothing, personal hygiene, and health; need support securing regular transportation to school; and need intensive academic support. 


These stressors can decrease students’ ability to focus on their studies. Students experiencing homelessness tend to score below their peers on state reading and math assessments, experience higher rates of special education needs and absenteeism, and lower rates of graduating from high school. During school year 2021–22, approximately 2.4% of all students enrolled in public schools were identified as experiencing homelessness, though the numbers are likely higher as schools often do not identify all their homeless students.


Whole child approach to support students

In response to the growing understanding of ACEs, more schools, local educational agencies (LEAs) and state educational agencies (SEAs) are adopting a whole child approach to support students’ overall well-being, integrating supports and coordinating with community partners to implement social and emotional learning (SEL) practices, trauma-informed (TI) practices, and mental health (MH) services. School- and LEA-wide initiatives to address ACEs are a necessary first step in supporting all students. These efforts should be augmented with tailored supports to address the unique experiences and needs of specific groups of students, especially those experiencing homelessness. The National Comprehensive Center provides resources and tools to support this work.



Leverage existing resources to provide whole child supports for students experiencing homelessness

The federal Education of Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program, funded through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act (reauthorized in 2015 by the Every Student Succeeds Act), requires that every SEA have a State Coordinator to make information and data available on children experiencing homelessness and to collaborate with LEA homeless liaisons, educators, service providers, and community organizations to support the students (among other duties listed in 42 U.S.C. §11432(f)). Find out how to contact your State Coordinator at this link. The McKinney-Vento Act also requires that every LEA have a local liaison to ensure that students experiencing homelessness are identified and receive the supports they need to attend and succeed in school. These supports require liaisons to coordinate efforts with community partners and providers of mental health services, medical services, housing, and other services to bolster students’ overall well-being. Find additional information on implementing the Education of Homeless Children and Youth program here.


In addition to providing direct supports for students and their families, local liaisons and State Coordinators are charged with supporting all educators in learning how to identify and serve students experiencing homelessness. These professionals can help build the capacity of local schools and systems to provide targeted TI, SEL, and MH supports for students experiencing homelessness—and by extension, bolster efforts to promote the overall well-being of all students.