Many students experiencing homelessness would like to pursue higher education but face many barriers, including unstable housing, hunger, and lack of access to financial resources, that make going to college difficult.
Need based and merit based financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Students (FAFSA) can provide financial resources that allow students to access college. There are multiple ways that one can complete the FAFSA Application – online at studentaid.gov, through the myStudentAid mobile app, by printing a PDF version of the FAFSA Application and mailing it in, or by completing the application on the phone by calling 1-800-433-3243.
Unaccompanied homeless youth – students not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian – can apply for FAFSA as independent students, meaning they do not have to have their parents’ financial information or signature. In order for an unaccompanied homeless youth to be determined as independent they must obtain confirmation from either a homeless service provider funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act program, a local educational agency homeless liaison (for Chicago Public Schools this would be the STLS Liaison), or a college financial aid administrator.
There is no specific documentation that an unaccompanied homeless student must provide to a financial aid office to determine the students’ status as an unaccompanied homeless student. Financial aid administrators should not require the youth to provide extensive documentation to prove homelessness as it creates barriers for accessing higher education. The economic impact of COVID–19 has pushed many renters into housing instability and Chicago will face a massive backlog of eviction filings when the Illinois eviction moratorium ends at the end of August. Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing estimated 21,000 Chicago households were at risk of eviction at the beginning of this year.[/efn_note] Dear Colleague Letter, U.S. Department of Education, July 2015.[/efn_note]
Local high school liaisons must ensure that unaccompanied homeless youth are informed of their status as independent students for college financial aid and may obtain assistance to receive verification for the FAFSA. Every Chicago Public School has a liaison or advocate to assist students experiencing homelessness.
For assistance or any questions please reach out to CCH Law Project Education Attorney Alyssa Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or (872) 588-6800.