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Record Student Homelessness Rates Warrant Refresher on Applicable Rules

K-12 Education Publications

Recent reports show that student homelessness is at an all-time high, and growing at exponential rates. Yet when we at Franczek conduct training of school and school district employees on residency issues, we find that it’s common for confusion to linger with respect to the rules governing homelessness. A student is “homeless” under state and federal law if he or she lacks a fixed, regular, adequate nighttime abode. It is not necessary for the student or the student’s parent or guardian to say that they are “homeless”; rather, if they give information to school staff indicating that the student lacks a fixed, regular, or adequate residence, the school is responsible for identifying the student as homeless and providing the student services required by the law. Following are some examples of situations where a school might be on notice that a student is homeless.

  • If a parent registering a student for school provides a lease that does not contain the parent or student’s name, indicating that they are “doubled-up”—living with another person or family in a home rented by that other person or family, the school should ask questions to determine if the parents and student have a fixed Seek legal counsel before contacting a landlord in these situations, as a landlord who learns that unauthorized individuals are living in a unit may evict all of the residents. Not all individuals living in a “doubled-up” situation are homeless, but schools should ask questions like why did the parent and student moved into the doubled-up situation (e.g, where they evicted), whether they feel at risk of having to move, and where would they go if they were forced to leave, among others, to help determine if the student should be identified as homeless.
  • If a parent registering a student provides numerous addresses, including houses, apartments, hotels, or shelters, consider whether the student has a regular If a student is hopping from room to room or house to house, the student may be homeless.
  • If at registration, a student’s parent or guardian mentions that the student and other children are sleeping in a shared area, such as a living room or bedroom, school staff should probe further to understand if the living situation is adequate. A student is not required to have his or her own room and could share a room with many other family members without being homeless. But getting more information about the sufficiency of the living space can help a school ensure that students who lack adequate abode are properly identified as homeless.
  • If a student is suspected or determined to be homeless, immediately enroll the student in school, connect the student and the student’s parent(s) with the school or school district’s homeless liaison, and determine what, if any, services the student might need in and out of school. You should do this even if you have concerns about whether the information provided is accurate or if the student really is homeless. Enroll the student and connect with services first, then investigate and challenge the homelessness status if warranted.

Because homeless disputes are often complicated and nuanced, it is important to consider all information that a family shares at registration to proactively identify homeless students and identify any concerns before a dispute arises.