Homeless children and youth are arguably the most atrisk for failure, if not outright omission from school, of any identiable student population (Stronge 1993b). 1 On a daily basis, these students often face economic deprivation, family loss or separation, insecurity, social and emotional instability, and, in general, upheaval in their lives (Bassuk and Rosenberg 1988; Nuñez 1994; Rafferty 1995; Rafferty and Rollins 1989; Quint 1994; Shane 1996; Stronge 1992). “Against this backdrop, efforts to make education accessible and meaningful for them and their families is like swimming upstream against a swift current. These students deserve the opportunity to attend and succeed in school—an opportunity paramount to achieving success in life and thus breaking the hold of poverty and deprivation on their lives” (Stronge 1997:14). If an opportunity to succeed is to be achieved, homeless students and their families need the concerted efforts of the educational community.
The purpose of this chapter is to provide background information relative to homelessness among school-age children and youth in the United States and to chronicle the progress made in recent years in the provision of an appropriate educational opportunity for homeless students. Particular areas of concern for improved access to and success in school are noted in the conclusion.
Unless we can define the homeless population, it is not likely that we can craft policies or practices that effectively address the problems associated with educating homeless students. Thus, how we define the homeless becomes paramount to increasing awareness and, subsequently, to building successful intervention strategies. Defining homelessness seems simple enough: “Either a person does or does not have a place to call home” (Stronge 1992:7). The reality, however, can be quite different, with definitions often caught in political crosswinds. The result is that definitions of homeless range from narrowly construed ones to broad-based descriptions, depending on the point of view or political perspective of the definer (Stronge 1993a). Narrowly focused definitions accen-