Homeless Education Resource Network

Facts and Figures

National Numbers

  • 1% of the U.S. population is homeless each year; 39% of which are children.1
  • Families with children are among the fastest growing group of the homeless population.

Homelessness in Massachusetts

  • From 2008 to 2009, there has been a high increase in the number of homeless families and individuals in Boston.2
  • There was a 22% increase in the number of homeless families in Boston between 2007 and 2008.2
  • About 20,000 people are homeless in MA - 3000 are students attending Boston Public Schools.

How Does Homelessness Affect a Child’s Education?

  • Children who are homeless are four times more likely to show slow development as non-homeless children. They are also twice as likely to have learning disabilities.3
  • Residency requirements, guardianship requirements, delays in transfer of school records, lack of transportation, and lack of immunization records often prevent homeless children from enrolling in school.
  • 87% of homeless students enroll in school, but only 77% attend school regularly.4
  • Homeless families move a lot due to limits on length of shelter stays, to search for safe and affordable housing or employment, or to escape abusive partners. Often homeless children have to change schools because shelters or other accommodations are not located in their school district. In recent years, 42% of homeless children transferred schools at least once, and 51% of these students transferred twice or more.5
  • Changing schools means getting used to new teachers, schedules, and friends. Students may have a very difficult time learning until the child adapts to new settings.
  • The attention of the child’s guardian may center on food, clothing, shelter and safety to the exclusion of education. This may add to the disruption of the child’s education.
  • Every time a child has to change schools, his or her education is disrupted. According to some estimates, 3-6 months of education are lost with every move. Some students may have to repeat a grade or placed in a Special Education class. Some students are mistakenly placed in these classes.5
  • Without an opportunity to receive an education, homeless children are much less likely to acquire the skills they need to escape poverty as adults.

Removing Barriers to Education – McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act

  • Congress established the McKinney Act’s Education of Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program in 1987. They did this in response to reports that only 57% of homeless children were enrolled in school.
  • The EHCY Program provides grants to state educational agencies to ensure that all homeless children and youth have equal access to the same free, appropriate education, including preschool education, provided to other children and youth.
  • States are responsible for giving the federal grants to school districts.
  • Funds may be used by school districts for outreach; giving assistance to students; transportation; school supplies; coordination among local service providers; school and summer programs; and referrals to support services.

The Rights of Children who are Homeless

  • Children must be allowed to stay in the school they were attending before becoming homeless even if they move from place to place. The school districts must provide transportation to and from the child’s school
  • School-age children, who are homeless, must be enrolled in school without delay. This is true even if they don’t have necessary documents or medical records.
  • Children cannot be treated differently from their peers solelybecause of their residential status.
  • Homeless children can receive free school meals as soon as s/he enters school. The guardian must still complete the meal application form.
  • Parents have a right to file a complaint if they feel their child is being kept out of school unfairly.

  1. Urban Institute, 2000
  2. Boston Emergency Shelter Commission Census, 2008-2009
  3. National Center on Family Homelessness Fact Sheet
  4. U.S. Department of Education, 2004
  5. Institute for Children and Poverty, 2003

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Homeless Resource Education NetworkBruce C. Bolling Municipal Building, 2300 Washington Street, Roxbury 02119 Phone: (617) 635-8037Fax: (617) 635-1546
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