Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

"Do Whatever You Can to Try to Support That Kid": School Counselors' Experiences Addressing Student Homelessness

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

"Do Whatever You Can to Try to Support That Kid": School Counselors' Experiences Addressing Student Homelessness

Article excerpt

Approximately one quarter of individuals experiencing homelessness are under the age of 18 (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2015). Nationwide, the total number of students experiencing homelessness who were enrolled in local educational agencies (LEAs) during the 2013-2014 school year was more than 1.3 million (U.S. Department of Education, 2015). Students experiencing homelessness may face health concerns (Cutuli et al., 2016), emotional and behavioral challenges (Herbers, Cutuli, Narayan, Monn, & Masten, 2014), and academic needs (Cutuli et al., 2013) that can impact their education. Homelessness can also prompt internalizing and externalizing problems, difficulty forming relationships with peers, and withdrawing behaviors (Chow, Mistry, & Melchor, 2015; Tobin & Murphy, 2013). Furthermore, homelessness is commonly linked to school mobility (i.e., the frequent transitioning among various schools), which may create greater problems in the classroom and with academic achievement (Fantuzzo, LeBoeuf, Chen, Rouse, & Culhane, 2012). These challenges and others require school counselors to find ways to meet the unique needs of students experiencing homelessness.

To address students' basic needs, school counselors can build systemic interventions that draw upon the strengths of the school, family, and community to coordinate resources (Bryan & Henry, 2008) and increase knowledge and awareness of resources and available support systems (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2010; Gaenzle, 2012). To address the emotional needs of students experiencing homelessness, school counselors can provide socioemotional services such as counseling interventions (Strawser, Markos, Yamaguchi, & Higgins, 2000). They can also support students' academic needs by developing school-based programs such as tutoring (Grothaus, Lorelle, Anderson, & Knight, 2011). These diverse functions pose an unexamined set of challenges for school counselors working to meet the needs of students experiencing homelessness. Because school counselors' roles may be particularly beneficial to such students, this study seeks to provide a deeper understanding of the perspectives of school counselors serving students who have had a loss of housing.


The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act addresses the barriers faced in schools by students experiencing homelessness (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). The act defines children and adolescents under the age of 18 experiencing homelessness as those:

Sharing housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason (sometimes referred to as doubled-up); living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to lack of alternative adequate accommodations; living in emergency or transitional shelters; or abandoned in hospitals (p. 5).

This definition also includes those children who reside in unsuitable accommodations, cars, or substandard housing. Migratory children may also be characterized as homeless if they fall under any of the descriptions above (U.S. Department of Education, 2016).

Under the McKinney-Vento Act (42 U.S.C. 11431 et seq), states are required to address barriers regarding the enrollment and/or attendance of students who fall within the definitions above and to ensure that they have access to services and a high-quality education to meet their state's standards for achievement. This includes allowing students experiencing homelessness to enroll quickly in school without the required paperwork. Moreover, under this law, schools are required to provide transportation for students to their school of origin and assign a local liaison, an individual who assists in the identification of students experiencing homelessness and provides supportive services (U.S. Department of Education, 2016).


Due to the range of experiences that qualify families as homeless, children and adolescents experiencing homelessness may have unique reactions to their lack of stable housing. …

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