Education of Homeless Youth Discussed at Film Screening in Washington, DC

A homeless young man looks out on a cityscape.

This article originally appeared on the Family & Youth Services Bureau website.

A November 6 film screening at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, DC, brought together federal officials, national advocates for homeless youth, educators, and the film’s co-director to discuss the challenges of and best practices for supporting and educating young people experiencing homelessness.

“The Homestretch” follows three homeless Chicago students--high school seniors, Roque and Kasey, and Anthony, a young father completing his GED--as they struggle to overcome poverty and get an education. Family & Youth Services Bureau grantees The Night Ministry and Teen Living Programs, as well as educators who support homeless students, are also featured in the film.

FYSB Associate Commissioner William H. Bentley moderated the panel discussion and question and answer session after the screening.

Panelist John McLaughlin, who coordinates the federal governments’ Education of Homeless Children and Youth Programs, made a plug for a greater role for educators in efforts to end youth homelessness.

"Educators need to understand the [Department of Education’s] definition of homelessness and the McKinney-Vento Act in order to meet the special needs of homeless youth,” McLaughlin said. The Act guarantees the right to public education for students experiencing homelessness and funds school-based services. It also requires every school district to have a “homelessness liaison” who coordinates outreach and services for homeless students and their families.

Barbara Duffield, policy director at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, cited the important work liaisons do to connect young people to community-based services and keep them in school. She said, “Chicago has taken it one step further to have a liaison at every [school] site.” She also noted that some colleges are beginning to replicate the homelessness liaison model, assigning one staff person to be the single point of contact for college students experiencing homelessness.

That type of post-college solution is important because young people’s struggles don’t end with high school graduation, panelists said.

“It was once they hit that goal [of graduating] that everything started to fall apart,” “Homestretch” co-director and co-producer Anne de Mare said of the dozen young people she and her colleagues got to know while filming the documentary.

The panelists discussed the need for affordable housing, stronger supports for families in crisis, policies that prioritize the well-being of children and youth, and programs for young fathers. Also, important, said Darla Bardine, executive director of the advocacy organization National Network for Youth, is tailoring services to the needs of youth. In answer to Bentley’s question, "If you were queen or king for a day, what would you do to end youth homelessness?” Bardine said, “I would make it so every young person in crisis had exactly what they needed when they needed it.”

Schools can help make that happen, Duffield said, and making sure they have the resources to support youth is a first step in ending youth homelessness.

“The Homestretch” is being screened across the country and will air on public television next year.

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