General Information

Definition of “Homeless” 

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 —

  • (i) children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement;
  • (ii) children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings (within the meaning of section 103(a)(2)(C));
  • (iii) children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and
  • (iv) migratory children (as such term is defined in section 1309 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965) who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii).”

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.

What is “McKinney-Vento”? 

“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:

  • Attend school, no matter where they live or how long they have lived there.
  • Continue in the school they went to before losing their housing or in the school in which they were enrolled last (called “school of origin”), even if they move out of the school district, if that is feasible.
  • Go to the local school in the area where they are living. The school must immediately let students enroll, attend classes, and participate fully in school activities, even if students do not have a parent or guardian with them or documents such as proof of residency, immunization records, other medical records, or school records.
  • Receive transportation to their school of origin, provided or arranged by the school district.
  • Access all the school services they need, including preschool (if offered in the district).
  • Go to school with children who are not in temporary housing and be free from stigmatization. Students cannot be separated from the regular school program because of their housing.
  • Have disagreements with the school settled quickly and go to the school they choose while disagreements are settled.
  • Contact the school district homeless education liaison, whose job is to help children in homeless situations and unaccompanied youth enroll and succeed in school.”

Source: THEO’s Fact Sheet titled “Domestic Violence, Homelessness, and Children’s Education”, available here.

What to Do if You Qualify for McKinney-Vento Protection.