Homeless Liaison Survey Results: Bright Spots & Our Policy Recommendations
We surveyed homeless liaisons across Texas to hear what is working and where they need help. Under federal law, every school district in the nation is required to have a homeless liaison. Homeless liaisons serve students experiencing homelessness by supplying resources and connecting them with help. While only 10 percent of Texas’ school districts receive federal grants to support their homeless liaisons, districts and staff are jumping into action to help students experiencing homelessness; and as COVID-19 continues, the number of students in need continues to climb. Based on responses from homeless liaisons across the state, here are some things that are going well and some areas that need creative thinking:
What is going well:
Food delivery to students in need
Homeless liaisons from across the state noted that students and families are getting meals and food boxes. How they get them varies with some districts having central spots where families must come, others providing delivery with school buses otherwise not running, and still other districts relying on area volunteers. Some districts are expanding their food delivery and service to include caretakers of students and planning to continue providing food over the summer.
Community partners helping meet needs
Some districts noted the help provided by community partners in delivering items in person to families who do not have adequate transportation. There has also been help from partners in providing needed supplies.
Many districts have distributed hot spots and set up Wifi on buses to ensure that homeless students have internet access.
Across the state access to Wifi has been a barrier for students to continue their education during the time of the coronavirus. There continues to be a need for hotspots in some places as well as the devices to connect to hotspots that have been set up. And in some communities, inadequate transportation to places with the hotspots is a barrier to using them. Many liaisons indicated that they are using McKinney-Vento funds to provide a lot of these necessary resources.
Where creative solutions are needed:
When to do in-person visits
Whether and when to do in-person visits remains an open question. Some liaisons noted this is the only way for them to make contact with some families; at least 14 districts noted they are going in person at times. Other districts are barred from going in person. Some districts explicitly allow such visits, others explicitly do not, and still others have no policy to guide liaisons and other personnel. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) should provide guidance to liaisons on when and how to conduct in-person visits for students.
Provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for homeless liaisons
For many liaisons, it is imperative that they go in person to establish contact with students, but also to deliver needed items. Sixteen districts responded that their districts were not providing them with masks, wipes, disinfectant, etc. As COVID-19 continues, homeless liaisons should have the necessary basic PPE to do these home visits and deliveries.
Students whom have not had any contact or logged on to do any school work since school became virtual
Many districts are reporting a percentage of students with whom they have had no contact since schools closed physically and moved online. These students have not logged on or returned phone calls; they have not been contacted via home visits. We cannot let these students continue to fall through the cracks. Some of them might be in new districts because they have moved due to housing instability during this time. TEA should issue guidance on how to track down these students and how to help them access resources, even if they have moved districts.
As COVID-19 continues to affect our lives, those without economic stability will continue to be the most vulnerable. Our students experiencing homelessness rely on schools as their safety net. With summer here, we must ensure that they can continue to access food and hygiene supplies and have the devices and Wifi needed to remain in communication. We see the above recommendations as initial steps to ensure this vital communication with students experiencing homelessness continues.