According to section 725(2) of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11434a(2)), the term "homeless children and youths"—
(A) means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence...; and
(i) children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement;
(ii) children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings…;
(iii) children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and
(iv) migratory children who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii).
Children and youth are considered homeless if they fit both part A and any one of the subparts of part B of the definition above.
Excerpt from The Office of Head Start Policy Clarification (OHS–PC– I–086) states:
"...In determining whether a child is living in "substandard housing," Head Start staff must evaluate whether the child's housing situation falls short of community standards or is of lower quality than the law prescribes. Staff should consider factors such as whether there are health and safety concerns related to the housing; the number of occupants per square foot; the age(s) of the occupants; and whether the housing meets State or local building codes. Does a comparison of the housing in question with community norms and laws lead staff to conclude that it is lower than what community norms or laws require?..."
Below are ideas for developing and implementing a selection process:
Develop a system for selection
Ensure that your service area plans describe how you will accommodate children in homeless situations in your Head Start/Early Head Start program.
Put a system in place to guide the process of determining eligibility (standards).
Verify that there are no gaps in your application and intake process that may result in the failure to identify families that are eligible based on experiencing homelessness.
Reserve a percent of enrollment opportunities for children in homeless situations.
Review and update your selection process periodically.
Create a form
Update your point criteria to include homeless children as a priority.
Include questions about living situations on your enrollment applications.
Separate income and homelessness. A family experiencing homelessness is eligible for Head Start services regardless of their income.
Change the way questions are posed on your enrollment application in order to properly determine eligibility. Avoid questions such as, “Is your family homeless?” Families who are doubled-up may be experiencing homelessness as defined by the McKinney-Vento Act, yet they may not identify themselves as being homeless. Instead, use questions that get at the families’ living situation and that can help you make a determination about their status, based on the legal definition: families that lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. For example, you may include questions on your enrollment application like: Do you move around a lot?; Are you currently living with another family; Do you have to pay anything to stay where you are now; or Are you living in a temporary housing situation?
Create a selection form that will properly identify children and families who are eligible for educational services according to the federal definition and criteria set forth in the law. For example, adjust the point system to give vastly more points to homelessness as a risk factor. Such a form will help you in prioritizing for enrollment those children experiencing homelessness.
Change your selection criteria as necessary. Consider homelessness as a risk factor and give it additional points.
Prepare all program staff, administrative staff, family service workers, and directors on the legal requirements for enrollment.
Ensure that your program is clear about the criteria for eligibility as represented by the homelessness definition in the McKinney-Vento Act.
Khari Garvin, Collaboration Director
North Carolina Head Start Collaboration Office
Khari Garvin is the Director of the North Carolina Head Start State Collaboration Office. Select the links below to hear or read what Khari has to say about enrollment in Head Start based on homelessness.
...they're retooling their enrollment applications. They are adding questions on there that are general enough to not cause... or to be stigmatizing in any way, but to be able to secure the proper information to establish that. So they're adding some additional questions. Also, they're training staff to be able to ask follow-up questions, again to help that staff to understand and make proper determinations about whether families are homeless or not. And so again, to do it in a way that's sensitive, but also... but that can collect good solid information.