Back to school without a place to call home

Last week marked the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year for Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Suburban school districts also started school in recent weeks. After the difficulties and barriers families and students faced over the last two years due to the pandemic, it is more important than ever for schools to identify and support students experiencing homelessness. 

The Chicago Public Schools identified 17,773 students as experiencing homelessness during the 2021-2022 school year. This represents a 64% increase from the number of students identified in the previous year.  In fact, it is the highest number of students identified since 2018-2019 school year. As more families face housing insecurity due to job losses and evictions, it is critical that students receive services and support to help them succeed in school.   

The Law Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless offers free legal aid and advice to city and suburban families and students experiencing homelessness if they encounter issues upon their return to school. Families in unstable living situations, including those living in shelters or doubled-up in someone else’s home, are considered to be experiencing homelessness under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.  

Students experiencing homelessness are allowed to remain in the school they attended before becoming homeless and are also allowed to enroll in the school nearest where they live. Enrollment should be immediate even if the student does not have the records normally required for enrollment, such as proof of residency, birth certificates, medical records or previous school records. Transportation is available for students returning to their previous school and in other circumstances. Every school in CPS and every district in the state has a liaison who is responsible for sensitively identifying and enrolling students experiencing homelessness. Liaisons should connect students and families with transportation, uniforms and school fee waiver assistance.

For help or information, call the Law Project at 1 (800) 940-1119 or email Education Attorney Alyssa Phillips at during weekday office hours, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.