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Letter to the Senate regarding the definition of homeless students in the Community Partnership to End Homelessness Act




September 18, 2008

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the National Education Association's (NEA) 3.2 million members, we urge you not to pass the Community Partnership to End Homelessness Act (S. 1518) without:

  • Broadening the HUD definition of homelessness to be more closely aligned with the statutory definition used by the Department of Education, and
  • Rejecting any arbitrary restrictions such as time limits or requirements for multiple moves.

Schools undertake considerable effort and expense to serve homeless children and youth. These endeavors are undercut by HUD's narrow definition of homelessness, and would continue to be undermined by the definition included in S. 1518.

The Department of Education definition of homelessness reflects the realities of family and youth homelessness. Public schools are the cornerstone of communities; no other entity has the same level of daily contact with children, youth, and families. Schools see the scope and the depth of housing problems in every community in the nation, and therefore are among the most accurate barometers of family and youth homelessness. Schools serve children whose families cannot get into shelters because they are full, or non-existent. Schools also serve children and youth who are excluded from shelters because of eligibility rules.

Homeless children and youth are at grave risk of educational failure and dropping out of school. Children who are moving from place to place - and are tired, hungry, sick, and traumatized - face significant barriers to academic success. Yet, the narrow definition in S. 1518 will undercut public school efforts to help these children. The definition will make it harder for schools and other agencies to work together and will prevent vulnerable children and youth from receiving the services they need to come to school ready and able to learn.

Schools across the country are seeing increases in homeless students due to foreclosures, natural disasters, and the downturn in the economy. We call on the Senate to broaden HUD's definition and more closely align it with the Department of Education - without arbitrary restrictions such as time limits or requirements for multiple moves - so that homeless children and youth can receive the services they need to come to school ready and able to learn.

Sincerely,

Diane Shust, Director of Government Relations

Randall Moody, Manager of Federal Advocacy