Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness
Attending school is a daunting task for far too many young people in California struggling to find a place to call home. And yet, hundreds of thousands of students show up to class each day in California without knowing where they will sleep that night.
Luckily, these students all have one resource in common: someone whose job is to support them. "Homeless liaisons," as they are sometimes called, are designated at every public PK-12 school district in the country and every public college in California. Liaisons work on the front lines, supporting children and youth experiencing homelessness to ensure they get the help they need and deserve.
Given liaisons' critical role advocating for students experiencing homelessness, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations of California (ACLU CA), in collaboration with the California Homeless Youth Project (CHYP), surveyed liaisons across California to better understand the needs of students experiencing homelessness and the capacity and resources of the schools that serve them.
In two companion reports, based on a survey of nearly 700 liaisons in California, the ACLU CA and CHYP document the overwhelming task for liaisons across the state and the additional resources needed for students experiencing homelessness at every level.
In "Serving Students Hidden In Plain Sight: How California’s Public Schools Can Better Support Students Experiencing Homelessness," the ACLU CA and CHYP detail key findings based on responses from over 500 K-12 liaisons:
- Liaisons' information is frequently unavailable for students experiencing homelessness.
- Liaisons lack the capacity and resources to do their jobs effectively.
- Liaisons cannot effectively refer students to outside services, such as housing.
- Schools do not effectively identify students experiencing homelessness.
- Eight out of ten districts designate homeless liaisons at every school site.
Based on these findings, the report develops recommendations for leaders at every level:
- The CDE and districts should make liaisons’ information public, accessible, and current.
- Districts and the state should devote more resources to liaisons.
- Districts and counties should cultivate partnerships with outside service providers.
- The CDE and counties should provide more support to liaisons to train school personnel.
- All school districts should designate school-site liaisons.
In "How to Support Students Experiencing Homelessness: Perspectives from California’s Community Colleges," the ACLU CA and CHYP detail key findings based on responses from as many as two thirds of all community colleges:
- Students' 5 greatest needs are assistance with housing, CalFresh, FAFSA, mental health services, and other outside services.
- Housing is the most difficult need for staff to meet.
- Staff working with students experiencing homelessness are not adequately funded — 64% spend 5 hours or less on their homeless liaison duties each week.
The report develops recommendations for the state and colleges:
- Colleges should systemically identify students experiencing homelessness.
- The state should fully fund homeless college liaisons at every campus.
- The state and colleges should invest in additional housing opportunities such as host homes, safe shelters, and housing vouchers.