Help for students experiencing homelessness is on the way

American Rescue Plan brings $800 million in federal funding; Illinois to receive $33 million.

By Patricia Nix-Hodes, Director of the Law Project

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced plans, as part of the American Rescue Plan, to distribute $800 million in federal funding to ensure that students experiencing homelessness are identified, enrolled in school, and provided with services to ensure their success. This week, $200 million of the funding was released to states. Illinois will receive a total allocation of more than $33 million with $8.2 million already released.   

This unprecedented level of federal support is desperately needed as students without permanent housing faced numerous barriers to education throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote learning has made it more difficult for schools to identify homeless students in need of critical supports. In Chicago, the number of students identified by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) liaisons as living in temporary living situations decreased by 24% as of March 31, 2021, compared to the previous year. If students experiencing homelessness are not identified, they do not receive necessary services to enroll in, attend, and succeed in school.  

Providing needed supports for students experiencing homelessness is a racial equity issue. Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and students of color, especially Black students, are disproportionately impacted by homelessness. Students of color make up 98% of the CPS homeless student population with Black students comprising 77% of CPS’ homeless students. By comparison, Black students make up only 36% of the overall student population in CPS.  

DeSera Williams speaking at a virtual roundtable with U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona

Last spring, CCH formed a CPS Focus Group, comprised of CCH grassroots leaders with lived experience of homelessness who are parents and grandparents of CPS students. Throughout the pandemic, they have advocated to ensure students receive the support they need. DeSera Williams, a seventh grade CPS student and daughter of CPS Focus Group member Maxica Williams, shared her experience as part of a roundtable discussion with U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona last week. DeSera was the youngest student that participated, and she shared the need for students to receive social and emotional support at school.  

The CPS focus group, working with CCH staff members Claudia Cabrera, Bisma Shoukat, and Alyssa Phillips, advocated with the Illinois State Board of Education and Chicago Public Schools to support students during the pandemic. They provided feedback and input to the Illinois State Board of Education’s guidance document, Supporting Homeless Students During the 2020-21 School Year. 

CCH has a long history of working with parents and students experiencing homelessness, including legal representation, policy advocacy, and organizing students and families to advocate for their needs. We are gratified that school districts across the country will have critical funding to support students as schools begin to reopen. Kudos to our national partner, SchoolHouse Connection, for their advocacy for this funding and for providing tips and tools for uses of the funds.