Different groups and governmental organizations define “homelessness” in different ways. When it comes to enrolling in schools, we use the following definition provided by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 2001:
“The term 'homeless children and youth' –
(A) means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence (within the meaning of section 103(a)(1)); and
(B) includes —
Although this definition may seem air-tight, when it comes to applying it to real-world situations, it can be tricky. Use the following guideline when trying to make decisions about homeless children: Is the housing fixed, adequate, and regular? By this we mean, is the child able to sleep in the same place every night (fixed)? Are the accommodations “adequate” in that they have electricity, clean running water, and sufficient heat? And does the child regularly reside there?
It is important to note that children are considered homeless until they are permanently housed. Permanent housing connotes that the child's housing situation is no longer temporary and will be stable and secure for the foreseeable future. In some housing situations, such as rental agreements or leases, it may take three months or longer before the housing situation can be determined with certainty, since eviction processes in many jurisdictions may take three months or longer. When determining whether or not a housing situation is indeed stable or permanent ("fixed, regular, and adequate"), enough time needs to transpire to insure that the child will not soon face uncertain or unstable housing. The permanence of a housing situation for a child may not be determined with any degree of certainty until the child has been in the same living situation for 6-9 months or longer.
If you have questions about whether or not a student qualifies for McKinney-Vento protections, you can always ask your district’s homeless liaison (every school district, by law, must have a homeless liaison) or contact the Texas Homeless Education Office (THEO) at 1-800-446-3142.
“McKinney-Vento” refers to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 2001 – Title X, Part C of the No Child Left Behind Act – Sec 725, a federal law that aims to protect homeless students and ensure them fair access to public education. Specifically, The "McKinney-Vento" Act says that children who have lost their housing can:
Source: THEO’s Fact Sheet titled “Domestic Violence, Homelessness, and Children’s Education”, available here.