Published: April 27, 2021

To effectively support students and families experiencing homelessness, districts, schools, and organizations must recruit, retain, and train staff members with the relevant skills and backgrounds to provide assistance for this population.

According to the state auditor’s report, there are already not enough McKinney-Vento liaisons to adequately support students experiencing homelessness in Washington State. The report explains: “Statewide, districts dedicate an average of 0.4 of one full-time equivalent homeless liaison position to student homelessness, which is, on average, less than 20 minutes with each homeless student each month.”

COVID-19 has revealed the urgent need to increase support for students and families experiencing homelessness. Additional staffing is needed to help facilitate the identification and support of students experiencing homelessness. Through additional staffing, we can increase identification of these students, and increase enrollment, attendance, and graduation rates in schools for historically underserved populations.

(Note: Abbreviations following recommendations indicate sources for those recommendations. See the Sources Key below for details.)

Goal 1: Districts and schools have a sufficient number of staff members to fully support the needs of students experiencing homelessness.

  1. Hire more McKinney-Vento liaisons to support students and families. (PE, LE)
  2. Develop a process to recruit, hire, and train a diverse group of knowledgeable educators, McKinney-Vento liaisons, and counselors who represent the student population they are serving. Focus on hiring people of color for leadership and executive roles. (PE, LE)
  3. Schools should partner with community-based organizations to increase support and capacity. (PE, LE, MM)
    • During the COVID-19 pandemic…
      Partnerships between schools and community-based organizations can help to quickly meet the emergent needs of students and families that districts often cannot fulfill. For example, Washington Kids in Transition, a nonprofit organization, was able to move faster than the district to fill resource gaps for households experiencing homelessness.

Goal 2: Staff working with McKinney-Vento eligible students are equipped with clear roles and responsibilities. Tasks can include outreach through events to raise awareness, provide McKinney-Vento training, and connect students experiencing homelessness with McKinney-Vento support programs in school buildings. *See Family Outreach and Communication topic area for further information.

  1. McKinney-Vento liaisons should assist with connecting students and families experiencing homelessness to housing programs, advocating for students’ rights, identifying school building–level points of contact, and introducing them to family engagement and support teams that can provide case management services. This is especially important now, as the need for resources and referrals has increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. (PE)
  2. Support staff should reach out to students and families experiencing homelessness in areas where they live or in another accessible location chosen by the student or family. (PE, LE)
  3. Create school-based teams, made up of school staff and community-based organizations, that focus on improving students’ academic and attendance rates. The teams should be knowledgeable and trained in working with McKinney-Vento eligible students (e.g., an intervention team, attendance team, racial equity team, or family engagement and support team). (PE, MM)
    • Strategy 1: Provide guidance for students and families on how to balance school and work life, access transportation, make appointments for support services, and access childcare services.
    • Strategy 2: Follow up with students and families after they complete their initial intake application forms (e.g., student housing questionnaires, referral forms, student-family meetings) by having ongoing conversations about their evolving needs.

Sources Key

AcronymnCategorySources Include:
PEProfessional ExpertiseBuilding Changes staff; school and district staff interviewed through Schoolhouse Washington-funded projects and our Students of Color project
LELived ExpertiseInterviews with with parents, students (including those from our Students of Color project), and school staff in Washington State
MMMixed-methods ResearchBeating the Odds quantitative and qualitative analysis showing association between a practice and better-than-predicted outcomes

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