The Sampson Family: Meet the Family

Ms. Sampson and her three-year-old son, Darryl, walk into your center. Ms. Sampson wants to enroll Darryl in Head Start.

Conversation With Ms. Sampson

Before you have a conversation with Ms. Sampson, you may want to look at the Explore Information tab for procedures and tips to help you determine eligibility.

As you begin to determine if Darryl is eligible for Head Start, you find out that Ms. Sampson is not working, she does not have a husband or significant other who helps her support Darryl, and that she is currently living with her sister.

To help you determine if Darryl is eligible for Head Start services based on homelessness, you will need to find out if the Sampson family has a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. Have some initial friendly conversation and then invite Ms. Sampson to talk with you in a quiet area. Review the questions below. Which questions would you ask Ms. Sampson?

  1. Tell me about where you are living now.

    Ms. Sampson responds:

    I already told you that we are living with my sister in her apartment.

    What Just Happened?

    You don't need to ask this question because she already told you this in your preliminary conversation. You found out that the family is doubled-up with Ms. Sampson's sister. You need to determine if this is by choice and is adequate or due to economic hardship or a loss of housing.

    Possible follow-up questions include:

    • How long have you lived here?
    • How long do you plan to stay?
    • Can you stay with your sister as long as you like?
    • Is this a permanent arrangement or just temporary?

    Use your judgment about how many and the type of questions you ask.

  2. Are you homeless?

    Ms. Sampson responds with anger:

    Why did you ask that? No, I'm not. Like I said, I live with my sister.

    What Just Happened?

    This question is too stigmatizing. Avoid using the word "homeless" in initial conversations. Many people might not identify their circumstances as homeless even though they fit the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness. Instead, use terminology such as "in a temporary living arrangement."

    Try another question to see if you can get the information you need to help the family, such as:

    • Are you in a permanent arrangement or just temporary?
    • Are you looking for another place to live?
  3. Are you just temporarily living with your sister?

    Ms. Sampson responds:

    Yes, we're staying with my sister. We're very close.

    What Just Happened?

    This is a good question to ask. It is not threatening and doesn't ask outright if she is living in a homeless situation. It gives you some information that she is not living in her own place so you can follow up to see if her living situation is adequate and whether she is at her sister's home by choice or due to economic hardship or a loss of housing.

    Possible follow-up questions include:

    • Are you comfortable living with your sister?
    • Have you started looking for another place to live?

    Remember to use your judgment about how many and the type of questions you ask.

  4. Are you and your sister comfortable with your current living arrangement?

    Ms. Sampson responds:

    Yes, I enjoy being with my sister and she likes having us there. We're able to share a lot of chores so it makes it easier for both of us.

    What Just Happened?

    It sounds like the doubled-up situation is mutually beneficial and an adequate living situation. Although it may not be by choice, it seems to be agreeable to everyone.

  5. Where were you living before you came to live with your sister?

    Ms. Sampson responds:

    I was living in an apartment.

    What Just Happened?

    This question is not threatening and allows you to determine if Darryl's family is possibly experiencing a homeless situation.

    Possible follow-up questions include:

    • Was the apartment here or in another location?
    • Why did you leave your apartment?
  6. Do you have income to support your family?

    Ms. Sampson responds:

    You know, I think that's a personal question and I don't know why I should answer you. But I will say that I'm not working right now.

    What Just Happened?

    You do not need to ask this question about income. You are trying to determine whether the Sampson family is in a homeless situation. Income is not relevant in determining eligibility for Head Start based on the definition of homelessness.

    It is important to gain the trust of the person you're talking with before asking personal questions. If you need to ask a personal question, it is helpful to first explain why you need to ask it.

  7. I'd like to set up a time to visit you at your home. What time would be good for you?

    Ms. Sampson responds:

    What for? I don't want anyone coming to my home.

    What Just Happened?

    Ms. Sampson is uncomfortable with this question. Although in certain circumstances this may be a good question to ask, it can seem intrusive and threatening.

    Although family services staff are not required to make home visits, it is a good practice. You also could arrange to visit a family at a mutually agreeable location, such as the center, a restaurant, or a park. Before you ask to visit, do the following:

    • Explain why you would like to visit.
    • Let her know you are asking questions of a personal nature to determine if she is eligible for additional services.
    • Assure her that her personal information will be kept confidential.

The Sampson Family: Explore Information

Before you make your recommendation, do the following:

  • Consider the Sampson family's circumstances.
  • Review the information in the links below.
  • If possible, discuss information about the Sampson family with a colleague.

The Sampson Family: Make a Recommendation

Step 1: Review the information about the Sampson family (Meet the Family tab)
Step 2: Read background information on eligibility (Explore Information tab)
Step 3: Reflect on "Conversation with Ms. Sampson" (Meet the Family tab)
Step 4: Make a recommendation to your supervisor about whether the Sampson family
is experiencing homelessness and therefore eligible for Head Start services.

What will you recommend to your supervisor?
Is the Sampson family experiencing homelessness and therefore eligible for Head Start services?

  1. I believe the Sampson family is experiencing homelessness and therefore eligible for Head Start services because Ms. Sampson is not working and the family is living with Ms. Sampson's sister.

    Your supervisor's response to your recommendation:

    Explore this situation. You may wish to resubmit your recommendation.

    It's good that you know that a doubled-up living arrangement may be an indication of a homeless situation, but you need to determine whether the Sampson family's doubled-up arrangement is adequate. Also, remember that income is not relevant in determining eligibility based on homelessness.

    Take another look at what Ms. Sampson said to you and then give me a different recommendation.

  2. I believe the Sampson family is not experiencing homelessness and therefore is not eligible for Head Start services because even though Ms. Sampson is not working right now, the family has an adequate living situation.

    Your supervisor's response to your recommendation:

    Thank you! This is an appropriate recommendation. Since the Sampson family is not eligible based on homelessness, please proceed with the usual process to determine eligibility.

    When you discovered that the Sampsons were living with Ms. Sampson's sister, you were right to engage in more conversation to find out more about the doubled-up living arrangement. Because Ms. Sampson indicated that the arrangement is adequate and mutually agreeable, the situation does not meet the definition of homelessness.

    The issue of working or income is not a consideration based on the definition of homelessness. Instead, you need to discover whether a family's experiences are represented by the homelessness definition in the McKinney-Vento Act by lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.

  3. I don't know if the Sampson family is experiencing homelessness and therefore eligible for Head Start services because I don't have enough information. I will have to visit their home before I can make a final determination.

    Your supervisor's response to your recommendation:

    Explore this situation. You may wish to resubmit your recommendation.

    It is important to make home visits to support the relationship-building process with the family. In this case, you have enough information to determine if the family is experiencing homelessness.

    Take another look at Ms. Sampson's comments and then offer a different recommendation.

The Turner Family: Meet Another Family

Last Updated: July 9, 2014