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Developing Effective Programs for Special Education
This document has been retired from the active collection
Who Are Homeless
of the ERIC Clearinghouse
on Disabilities and Gifted Education.
It contains references or resources that may
no longer be valid or up to date.
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
ERIC EC Digest #E504
Author: Juane L. Heflin
The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act (P. L. 100-77),
defines homeless individuals as those who lack a fixed, regular,
adequate nighttime residence; have a primary nighttime residence
is (a) a supervised, publicly or privately operated shelter
to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare
congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally
(b) an institution that provides a temporary residence for
intended to be institutionalized; or (c) a public or private
designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping
for human beings.
There are between 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 homeless individuals in
United States (Tower & White, 1989). Almost 90% of homeless
are headed by females. Women and children represent up to
the homeless population (Bassuk & Rosenberg, 1988), and the
age of the homeless child is six years. (Kozol, 1990).
The decade of the eighties heralded a deterioration of services
available to individuals who are homeless. Dramatic fiscal cuts
federal welfare programs have reduced funding for Aid to Families
Dependent Children (AFDC), food stamp, and nutrition programs
Young, 1986). During the Reagan administration, nearly half a
families lost all welfare payments, a million people lost usage
food stamp programs, and two million children were deleted from
lunch programs. The Women, Infant and Children (WIC) nutrition
is unable to provide services to even half of the individuals who
their eligibility criteria (Kozol). In addition, economic
circumstances and no-fault divorce laws are generating a rapid
increase in the number of families who find themselves homeless.
What Are the Effects of Homelessness on
Although homelessness is potentially devastating to anyone, it
to have the most detrimental effects on children and youth.
children have more health problems than matched children of low
socioeconomic status who are living at home. Homeless families
typically do not seek health services for their children until
child's health forces them to do so. One-fourth to one-third of
homeless individuals have chronic health problems (Wasem, 1989).
comparison to low socioeconomic status children living at home,
homeless children are three times more likely to exhibit elevated
levels (Alperstein, Rappaport, & Flanigan, 1988). Research
that elevated lead levels may produce neurologic functioning
leading to serious educational implications for children who are
What Are the Educational Implications of
Educational intervention has unfortunately proven to be an
opportunity for many homeless children and youth. It is estimated
43% of homeless school-aged children do not attend school (Ely,
The inability to meet specific enrollment criteria such as
requirements, guardianship rights, presentation of previous
records, and documentation of medical history, including
records, act as a barrier to exclude students who are homeless
school attendance. In addition, students who are homeless may not
transportation or school supply resources.
Homeless children and youth who do make their way into the
systems may exhibit unsatisfactory school progress. Research
that students who are homeless have a greater chance of
difficulty in making transitions, being successful with academic
tasks, interacting positively with peers, and demonstrating a
self-concept (Stronge & Tenhouse, 1990). In a study conducted in
Boston, it was found that 40% of the students were failing or
performing below average work, 25% were in special classes, and
had repeated one grade (Bassuk & Rubin, 1987). Homeless children
also more likely to develop behavior problems than their peers
& Rosenberg). Although clearly at risk for academic failure, the
transient nature of most homeless students makes the time
task of assessment and referral for special services almost
impossible. Given the high percentages of homeless students
experiencing school problems, it can be inferred that students
could be eligible for special education services are not
such because of their homelessness.
The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act (P. L. 100-77),
in 1987, is the most comprehensive emergency aid program for
homeless. Included in the Act are policies and procedures for
guaranteeing the provision of educational services. The
portion of the law, Title VII-B, is administered by the U.S.
Department of Education. This educational subtitle guarantees
and youth who are homeless the same access to elementary and
education as children who are not homeless. The Act discourages
districts from using residency, guardianship, or other enrollment
criteria to prevent a student from attending school. According to
McKinney Act, each state must appoint a coordinator for the
of homeless children and youth, who, among other activities, must
identify special educational needs of the homeless. If they meet
eligibility requirements, students who are homeless must be
special services such as compensatory educational programs,
education programs, services for the gifted and talented,
students whose native language is not English, vocational
programs, and school meal programs (Stronge & Tenhouse). In 1990,
Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act was again
strengthened in its ability to meet the educational needs of
and youth who are homeless.
What's the Educator's Role in Alleviating the
Children and youth need to learn to overcome the potentially
and devastating effects of a homeless situation. An appropriate
education is the most promising intervention available. As
federal precedents and the continuous work of advocates, schools
increase their efforts to meet the needs of homeless students,
including those who need special services to benefit from their
educational opportunities. Realistically, schools must recognize
homeless children and youth bring with them a variety of
hindrances. Emotional stress, behavioral disorders, physical
anomalies, poor health, and developmental delays created by a
transient lifestyle, as well as cognitive deficits due to missed
schooling, inhibit the ability to learn.
Interagency collaboration is essential to developing effective
services for homeless students. Issues such as education, health
mental health, housing, and alcohol or other drug abuse can be
addressed through a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach. It
important for schools to provide a referral system, designating
someone with knowledge of area resources who can provide students
referrals to appropriate agencies. In addition, schools can
remediation and tutoring of basic skills, after school and
day services, awareness training for personnel, and program
and stability. Teachers can assist students who are homeless by
providing personal space in the school that is the
own and marking the space with a symbol of the student's
supporting identity development; and establishing a structured
environment. School personnel must learn to plan for and
homeless students into their programs for whatever period of time
students are able to attend.
Alperstein, G., Rappaport, C., & Flanigan, J. (1988). "Health
of Homeless Children in New York City." In American Journal of
Health, 78(9), 1232-1233.
Bassuk, F. & Rosenberg, L. (1988). "Why Does Family Homelessness
Occur?" In American Journal of Public Health, 78, 783-88.
Bassuk, F. & Rubin, L. (1987). "Homeless Children: A Neglected
Population." In American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 57(2),
Ely, L. (1987). "Broken Lives: Denial of Education to Homeless
Children." Washington, DC: National Coalition for the Homeless.
Heflin, L. J., & Rudy, K. (1991). "Homeless and in Need of
Education." Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.
Hope, M. & Young, J. (1986). "The Faces of Homelessness."
MA: Lexington. (ED 309233)
Kozol, J. (1990). "The New Untouchables." In Newsweek Special
Maza, P. L. & Hall, J. A. (1988). "Homeless Children and Their
Families. A Preliminary Study." Washington, DC: Child Welfare
of America. (ED 305409)
Phillips, M., DeChillo, N., Kronenfeld, D., & Middleton-Jeter, V.
(1989). "Homeless Families: Services Make a Difference." In
Casework, 34(1), 48-53.
Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, (P.L. 100-77). (July
1987). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. (ED
Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Amendments Act of 1988,
100-628). (November 7, 1988). Washington, DC: U.S. Government
Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Health Care, Education, Training,
Community Services Admendments of 1990 (August 30, 1990). (Report
accompany S. 2863, Senate, 101st Congress, 2d Session).
DC: Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. (ED 325563)
Stronge, J. H. & Tenhouse, C. (1990). "Educating Homeless
Issues and Answers." Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational
Foundation. (ED 325612)
Tower, C. C. & White, D. J. (1989). "Homeless Students."
DC: National Education Association. (ED 311338)
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
1988 National Survey of Shelters for the Homeless. Washington,
Wasem, R. E. (1989). "Homelessness: Issues and Legislation in the
101st Congress." (CRS Publication No. IB88070). Washington, DC:
Library of Congress. (ED 315490)
This digest is based on information published in Homeless and in
of Special Education by L. J. Heflin and K. Rudy, 1991, available
The Council for Exceptional Children, 1920 Association Drive,
ERIC Digests are in the public domain
and may be freely
disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This
publication was prepared with
funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of
Educational Research and
Improvement, under Contract No. RI88062207. The opinions
expressed in this report do
not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the
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