Supporting Transitioning Homeless Students

Between 2019-2020, 17,298 Indiana students experienced homelessness of some form (National Center for Homeless Education, 2022). These numbers include 3,112 students with disabilities and refer to many forms of homelessness: from students temporarily having to live in a motel or the family car to students whose family lives on the streets or in a shelter. Being homeless can also include a child who lives with relatives or friends without any plan of obtaining permanent housing.

Students who are homeless have difficulty fulfilling basic needs, such as regular meal access, clean clothing appropriate for school and the season, school supplies, proper hygiene, access to medical care and medications, social services, banking for the family, or gas for transportation. Homeless children are also less able to avoid dangerous situations and unsupportive circumstances and are less likely to stay in safe environments free from abuse (Litchman, 2021).

Because of these difficulties, all public schools must follow the McKinney-Vento Act (MVA), which provides specific services and assistance for students experiencing homelessness. The MVA enables students to attend their school of origin or the school nearest where they temporarily reside and to enroll without scholastic, medical, or similar records. The MVA also provides transportation to school, even if the school of origin is outside the current district.
Perhaps most importantly, the MVA guarantees a student will receive all services provided through the public school. This means that students who are receiving special education via the IDEA 2004 act, or protection from Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, will continue to receive these services, despite being homeless.
Indiana also has non-profit agencies that aid homeless students. It is important for educators to know about the rights of students who are homeless, the trauma that students can experience because of homelessness, and the assistance these students may need. Be ready to support and assist students so they can find school to be a safe, stable, secure place.
Some takeaway tips for teachers working with homeless students with disabilities:

  • Be familiar with the laws protecting these student’s educational rights.
  • Work to be the stable part of that student’s life by providing a safe learning environment.
  • Work with school counselors, social workers, and staff to ensure students’ needs are met.
  • Maintain the student’s confidentiality about their living situation.


McKinney-Vento Act: Homeless Children and Youth Program

Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention 

Stopover Youth Shelter and Support

Indiana Runaway and Homeless Youth Grantees

Data Brief About Youth Homelessness in Indiana