Academic journal article American Educational History Journal

Educational Rights of Homeless Children and Youth: Legal and Community Advocacy

Academic journal article American Educational History Journal

Educational Rights of Homeless Children and Youth: Legal and Community Advocacy

Article excerpt

Many homeless children and youth have difficulty in school due to their loss of stable housing, and lack of consistent contact with family and friends. When a child becomes homeless, schools are federally mandated to identify these students and provide the same access to a free and appropriate education as their non-homeless counterparts. Within a historical and legal context a review of federal and state legislation that addresses the education of homeless children and youth will be conducted. This paper will provide an overview of the history of homelessness in the United States, specifically its impact on homeless children and youth and its relationship to education. A critical analysis of The Chicago Public School Systems' response to these federal and state laws will be outlined in an effort to demonstrate the need for continued support, advocacy and enforcement of homeless educational policy.


Since settlers came to the New World there have been homeless people (Barak 1991). It has been noted that the first real incidence of massive homelessness in the United States occurred during the period of the Civil War (Stronge 1992). Post Civil War, there was a decrease in jobs and people were forced from their homes, creating an increase in the number of homeless persons. The Great Depression of 1929 created a dramatic increase in the number of homeless individuals. More recently, cuts in federal low-income housing programs and state cash assistance programs in combination with rising housing costs and a minimum wage that has not kept up with the cost of living has created a context in which homelessness continues to spread throughout U.S. society. From the 1980s forward, homelessness has been recognized as a result of a transition from "an industrial-based capitalist economy to a postindustrial capitalist service economy within the context of internationally developing global relations" (Barak 1991). Recognizing cuts in funding to programs that serve homeless persons, along with the rise of the cost of living, and the fact that the U.S. has become a postindustrial capitalist service economy, still does not adequately account for the continued rise in homelessness. When attempting to understand and discuss the various policies that have been created in response to homelessness one must have an idea of whom the homeless population consists of historically and the changes in demographics.

Studies on the homeless population have found the following: 1. More and more homeless people are young people, 2. Racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately represented, 3. Families with children constitute approximately 35% of homeless people, 4. Working people account for an average of 30% of the homeless population, 5. Homelessness is becoming a chronic and recurring event, reflecting the inadequacy of existing solutions in the face of low public-benefits levels and wages and high housing costs (Hombs and Snyder 1983, United States Conference of Mayors 2006). Critically examining the common characteristics that currently and historically compose the homeless population, we see that they are often persons living on the margins of society (e.g. poor, mentally ill, minority status, women and children), and lacking the political power to significantly change the social structures that create and perpetuate homelessness.


Changes in the homeless demographic in the U.S. over the past 20 years have led to increases among homeless families, and unaccompanied homeless youth. Since the 1980s there has been an increase in the number of families that have become homeless, and notably so, as the United States has not seen such an increase since the Great Depression (Stronge and Popp 1999, Sommer 2000). During the Reagan Era, social inequities reached an extreme, widening the gap that existed between rich and poor. Reagan cut the budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by three-fourths, from 32billion in 1981 to 7. …

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