Youth Homelessness And Basic Needs In Higher Education

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YOUTH HOMELESSNESSANDHIGHER EDUCATION

SUMMARYIn recent years, research on “basic needs” insecurity in higher education has helped shine a spotlight on homelessness among college students.While definitions and methodologies vary, the largest national basic needs survey found that 12% of community college students and 9% ofuniversity students experienced homelessness over the last year.1Homelessness among college students, however, is a diverse phenomenon; it encompasses different age groups, family compositions, causes,and dynamics.This report considers the experiences of unaccompanied homeless youth. We argue that unaccompanied homeless youth share manycharacteristics with former foster youth, and should be afforded similar protections and supports.In addition, we examine a critical component of the basic needs of both former foster youth and unaccompanied homeless youth in highereducation: financial aid. Our analysis of four years of Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) data for unaccompanied homeless youthfinds that: The number of FAFSA applicants determined to be unaccompanied homeless youth increased by 10% over the past four years, and by 2%between 2015 and 2016. There is great variation among states. The number of unaccompanied homeless youth determinations made by financial aid administrators has increased in each of the last fourreporting cycles; nevertheless, determinations made by financial aid administrators continue to lag well behind determinations made byother authorized entities. Homeless service providers’ determinations have declined significantly.As demonstrated below, the data on unaccompanied homeless youth determinations provide compelling evidence that unaccompanied homelessyouth face heightened barriers to obtaining federal financial aid. Without financial aid, postsecondary education–their best hope for lastinghousing stability–is simply out of reach. In fact, SchoolHouse Connection and three partners have launched Education Leads Home, a nationalcampaign to improve educational outcomes for children and youth experiencing homelessness. 2 Education Leads Home includes a postsecondaryeducation goal because over 95% of the jobs created since 2010 have gone to college-educated workers. By 2020, 65% of all jobs will requireeducation beyond high school. Postsecondary education is therefore critical for obtaining a job that pays enough to afford housing and avoidhomelessness.We conclude with recommendations for policy and practice, including support for the Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless andFoster Youth Act, and increased professional development in schools, shelters, and institutions of higher education.

HOMELESSNESS AND FOSTER CAREAMONG COLLEGE STUDENTS:Unaccompanied homeless youth are young people experiencing homelessness who are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.According to a recent national study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, 4.2 million youth and young adults experienced homelessnesson their own during a 12-month period.3 This number includes approximately 700,000 youth between the ages of 13-17, and 3.5 millionyoung adults between the ages of 18-25. According to national survey follow-up interviews, 29% of young adults who experiencedhomelessness were enrolled in college or another educational program at the time that they experienced homelessness.Homelessness among unaccompanied youth is most commonly the result of severe family dysfunction exacerbated by poverty. Familydysfunction includes abuse, conflict, and substance abuse. Studies have shown that 20-40% of unaccompanied homeless youth were sexuallyabused in their homes, while 40-60% were abused physically.4 Research also reveals a clear link between parental substance abuse and youthrunning away from home.5 Family homelessness also contributes to youth homelessness: a recent study of homeless and formerly homelessyouth found that 47% experienced homelessness both with their family and on their own. 6Experiences of parental death and family separation are common among homeless youth: Chapin Hall’s Voices of Youth Count found that overone-third of youth experienced the death of a parent or caregiver, and nearly one-third of youth experiencing homelessness had priorexperiences with foster care.Finally, some groups of youth are at higher risk of experiencing homelessness, just as they are of being placed in foster care. Chapin Hall’snational estimates found that unmarried parenting youth, LGBT youth, African American youth, and Hispanic youth were significantly morelikely to experience homelessness. Similarly, studies show that African American youth, Hispanic youth 7, and LGBT8 youth aredisproportionately represented in the foster care system. Young women in foster care are more than twice as likely as their peers not in fostercare to become pregnant by age 19.9In sum, youth experience homelessness on their own, away from their parents, for reasons that are very similar to the reasons that youth areplaced in foster care, and share many characteristics and vulnerabilities. Youth from foster care also are at very high risk of experiencinghomelessness. A recent national survey found that almost one in four former foster youth in college had experienced homelessness in the lastyear.10

HOMELESSNESS AND FOSTER CAREAMONG COLLEGE STUDENTS:It is perhaps unsurprising, given the life experiences of homeless and foster youth, that they face common challenges in accessing andpersisting in higher education. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that homeless youth had similar college enrollmentpatterns as former foster youth (pursuing an associate’s degree more often than other students and pursuing a bachelor’s degree less oftenthan other students).11 The report also found similar challenges for youth experiencing homelessness and those who have been in foster carein lack of family support, limited academic preparation, and financial hardship.In recognition of their shared life experiences and hardships, a number of higher education initiatives include both groups of young people intargeted supports. For example, state laws in California and Louisiana establish liaisons in higher education for youth experiencinghomelessness and those who have been in foster care; Georgia’s EMBARK network is a statewide network of support for youth who haveexperienced foster care or homelessness; and Washington state recently amended its Passport to Careers program to help both homeless andformer foster youth in college and apprenticeship opportunities. Nonetheless, the range of supports in higher education for former fosteryouth remains more extensive than that for youth experiencing homelessness. In addition to the federal Education and Training VoucherProgram, 28 states offer tuition assistance to former foster youth. In comparison, only two states offer tuition waivers to homeless youth, andonly two offer in-state tuition.12In light of the shared life experiences and challenges of youth experiencing homelessness and those who have been in foster care, statepolicymakers, institutions of higher education, college access programs, and private philanthropy should consider broadening eligibility forsupports that are now available for former foster youth to include unaccompanied homeless youth.

FINANCIAL AID:Federal financial aid is a critical component of basic needs in higher education. Without it, highereducation simply is not an option for many low-income students, including homeless and former fosteryouth. Yet, ironically, financial aid may be overlooked in discussions of basic needs in higher education.Youth experiencing homelessness and those who have been in foster care face unique barriers tofinancial aid as a result of their lack of parental support and deep poverty.

FINANCIAL AID:Under the Higher Education Act, youth who are under age 24 generally are considered “dependent students,” meaning they must provideparental income information and a parental signature in order to be considered for federal financial aid. To address the unique needs of formerfoster youth and unaccompanied homeless youth, the Higher Education Act specifies that unaccompanied homeless youth and youth who werein foster care at any time after age 13 are considered “independent students.”However, the law treats homelessness differently than foster care by requiring that the status of unaccompanied homeless youth be determinedevery year, in the year in which they are submitting the application, and that it be determined by specific federal program designees, includingschool district homeless liaisons; directors or designees of Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) programs; directors or designees of Housingand Urban Development (HUD) Homeless Assistance programs; or financial aid administrators. In contrast, former foster youth are consideredindependent if they were in foster care at any time after age 13, and are not required to have their status re-determined annually by specificdesignated authorities.While the policy of treating unaccompanied homeless youth as independent students has led to important improvements in access to financialaid for homeless youth since its inception, many barriers remain.13 A May 2016 GAO study found that burdensome program rules can hinder theability of youth experiencing homelessness to access federal supports. In particular, the study showed that extensive documentation requests canimpede access to aid for homeless youth, and that the stigma of homelessness, family conflict, and limited time frequently complicate theprocess of attaining required documents. Compounding these burdens, the required annual re-verification of homelessness forces youth toendure this often traumatic process repeatedly.In addition, a 2017 SchoolHouse Connection analysis of U.S. Department of Education (ED)14 data revealed that: 22- and 23-year-old homeless youth faced significant challenges in obtaining determinations of independent student status. Many youth indicated they did not have homeless determinations from school district liaisons or homeless service providers, and, as aresult, faced significant barriers in accessing financial aid. Many applicants who requested homeless determinations from their postsecondary institution did not receive one.The same data were not made available in 2018. However, ED did release data from the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 application cycles of theFAFSA. These data can help us assess the implementation of protections for students experiencing homelessness both nationally and at the statelevel.

ELAINE WILLIAMSEvery single year, except for my senioryear, completing the FAFSA was anightmare. I would get to question 53and 54, and worry. It was retraumatizing to have to explain mysituation over and over again, to pourmyself out to a stranger, and then havethem not believe me. I cried a lot, andsometimes I thought that maybe collegewasn’t for me after all. I already felt outof place, as a first-generation student.The FAFSA process made me feel evenmore stigmatized.”

Source: U.S. Department of Education, https://nche.ed.gov/ibt/fafsa.phpAgency Determined (as self-reported on FAFSA)High School or SchoolDistrictHUD ProgramYouth orTransitionalProgramSchool Financial 0533,5713,3232,79232,739The chart above summarizes available data on FAFSA applicants determined to be unaccompanied homeless youth, and the sourceof the determination. It is important to note that these data are not representative of the entire population of FAFSA applicantsexperiencing homelessness and should not be construed as the total number of homeless youth, or unaccompanied homelessyouth, in college.15NATIONAL FAFSA DATA ONHOMELESSNESS FROM 2013-2016

NATIONAL FAFSA DATA ONHOMELESSNESS FROM 2013-2016The number of FAFSA applicantsdetermined to beunaccompanied homeless youthincreased by 10% over the pastfour years and by 2% between2015 and 2016.Nevertheless, determinationsmade by financial aidadministrators continue to lagwell behind determinationsmade by other authorizedentities.The number of unaccompanied homelessyouth determinations made by financialaid administrators has increased in each ofthe last four reporting cycles, with anincrease of 28% from 2015 to 2016.Homeless service providers’determinations have declinedsignificantly.

It is encouraging that more unaccompanied homeless youth are obtaining determinations of independent status forfinancial aid. However, despite the national trend upward, there is significant variation among states, with some statesshowing large decreases (see Appendix A for a state-by-state chart). Over the four-year time period from 2013-2016, the number of FAFSA applicants determined to be unaccompaniedhomeless youth increased in 36 states, decreased in 13 states, and remained the same in two states. Thirteen states hadincreases of more than 20%. Twelve states had increases of more than 10%. Over the one-year period from 2015-2016, the number of FAFSA applicants determined to be unaccompanied homelessyouth increased in 32 states and decreased in 19 states. Three states saw decreases of more than 10%. Two states sawdecreases of more than 20%.

This encouraging trend may reflect progress in efforts to raise financial aid administrators’ awareness of their legislativelymandated role in facilitating unaccompanied homeless youths’ access to financial aid.

The apparent ongoing reluctance of financial aid administrators to make unaccompanied homeless youth determinationshas far-reaching implications for higher education access for some of our most marginalized young people. Financial aidadministrators are the only parties who are able to make determinations for the vast majority of unaccompanied homelessyouth. Most youth experiencing homelessness do not stay in shelters due to lack of shelter availability or limited capacity,16and thus would not obtain verifications from HUD or RHYA providers. In addition, only younger students who aretransitioning from high school to postsecondary education are likely to have determinations from high schools or schooldistricts. Therefore, it would be expected that, of all the parties authorized to make homelessness determinations, financialaid administrators would make the greatest number of determinations, not the fewest. These data indicate the need tostrengthen federal policy (see below) and provide more training and awareness of the needs and circumstances ofhomeless youth on college campuses—and in financial aid offices, in particular.

LIZZY PINTO-GOUVEIAVerification ofindependent statusevery semester meansreliving my trauma andhardship to a completestranger in the financialaid office and the fearof not receivingfinancial aid tocontinue myeducation.”

Over the past four years, the number of homeless youth determinations made for financial aid purposes by HUD programsdecreased by nearly 20%, and those made by RHYA programs decreased by 41.6%. There are no data showing that fewerhomeless youth received HUD homeless assistance or RHYA services over this time period. The FAFSA data may indicate theconsequences of a recent shift toward “Rapid Rehousing” models that seek to move youth out of shelter and into housingas quickly as possible, with less attention on the education that is necessary to obtain higher-paying employment to sustainthat housing. More training for HUD and RHYA programs on the importance of education, and on their role in assisting inthe FAFSA determination process, is needed.

TWO RECENTPOLICY CHANGES

POLICY CHANGES:As the result of efforts by advocates over many years,In addition to ED’s removal of the definition of “youth” from thethe U.S. Department of Education recently announcedFAFSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) made importantthat the 2018-2019 FAFSA would remove the definitionamendments to the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homelessof “youth” from the FAFSA. Previous versions of theChildren and Youths Program to help youth experiencing homelessnessFAFSA had defined “youth” as a person aged 21 ortransition successfully from high school to postsecondary education.under, forcing 22- and 23-year-old unaccompaniedSchool district homeless liaisons are now required to ensure thathomeless youth to submit extensive and burdensomeunaccompanied homeless youth are informed of their status asdocumentation to prove their homelessness until theyindependent students for college financial aid and obtain assistance towere no longer considered “dependent” at age 24. Wereceive verification for the FAFSA. Additionally, state McKinney-Ventoanticipate that this change will simplify the financialplans must describe how homeless youth will receive assistance fromaid application and determination processes for manyschool counselors to advise, prepare, and improve their readiness forunaccompanied youth, and therefore increase theircollege. These amendments went into effect on October 1, 2016.access to federal student aid.Therefore, we expect to see the number of youth determined to beunaccompanied homeless youth by school district liaisons increasesignificantly.

I’ve talked to multiple people across various campus offices aboutmy family situation and explained that my relationships with myfamily members are just about as strong as a single strand of angelhair pasta, but this fails to either register or mean anything.”

RECOMMENDATIONS FORPOLICY & PRACTICE

#1Congress should remove financial aid andother barriers for youth experiencinghomelessness and those who have been infoster care by including the provisions ofHigher Education Access and Success forHomeless and Foster Youth Act (HEASHFY),S.1795/H.R. 3740, in the upcomingreauthorization of the Higher Education Act.This legislation streamlines the financial aidapplication process for youth experiencinghomelessness and those who have been infoster care. It also requires institutions ofhigher education to designate a single point ofcontact for homeless and former foster youthand to develop a plan to help students accesshousing resources during and betweenacademic terms.#2State McKinney-Vento Coordinators shouldinclude specific information on financial aideligibility for unaccompanied homelessyouth in the professional development thatis now required under ESSA for schooldistrict liaisons. In addition, school districtliaisons should include similar informationin the ESSA-mandated trainings for schoolpersonnel, including high schoolcounselors.

#3Case managers and other staff of homelessservice agencies, in particular HUD and RHYAprograms, should receive training aboutfinancial aid eligibility for unaccompaniedhomeless youth and their role in makinghomelessness determinations for financial aidqualification. Providers should inform allunaccompanied homeless youth under theage of 24 of their eligibility for independentstudent status on the FAFSA and assist theseyouth by providing the necessarydocumentation for their determinations.#4Financial aid administrators, studentsupport staff, and other professionals atpostsecondary institutions should receivetraining on financial aid eligibility criteriafor unaccompanied homeless youth andthe requirement that financial aidadministrators make homelessnessdeterminations without raisingunnecessary barriers for students.17

EDUCATION LEADS HOMEwww.EducationLeadsHome.org

#EDULEADSHOMEThis year, SchoolHouse Connection, along with core partners America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Institute forChildren, Poverty and Homelessness, announced the Education Leads Home campaign. This national campaign is focused onimproving educational outcomes for children and youth experiencing homelessness through three goals:1. Young children experiencing homelessness will participate in quality early childhood programs at the same rate as theirhoused peers by 2026.2. High school students experiencing homelessness will reach a graduation rate of 90% by 2030.3. Postsecondary students experiencing homelessness will reach an attainment rate of 60% by 2034.Education Leads Home includes a postsecondary education goal because over 95% of the jobs created since 2010 have gone tocollege-educated workers, and by 2020, 65% of all jobs will require education beyond high school. Postsecondary education istherefore critical for obtaining a job that pays enough to afford housing and avoid homelessness. The Lumina Foundation hasadopted the goal of increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates, and other credentials to 60% by2025. Recognizing the lack of quality data on the postsecondary enrollment and completion of students experiencing homelessness,as well as the significant barriers to both high school and postsecondary completion, Education Leads Home has adopted a goal of a60% postsecondary attainment rate by 2034 for homeless youth. This goal aligns with efforts of other organizations working towardsimproving postsecondary attainment rates across the country.

2013-2014 2014-2015 2015-2016 2016-20172013-2014 2014-2015 2015-2016 165158165-0.60%Source: U.S. Department of Education, https://nche.ed.gov/ibt/fafsa.php

0137563681,4755231894621332,205Source: U.S. Department of Education, 3%-27.40%10.20%

1Goldrick-Rab, S/, Richardson, J., Schneider, J., Hernandez, A., & Cady, C. (2018). Still Hungry and Homeless in College. Madison:Wisconsin Hope Lab. Available at: mVGqQtsLB3qV-ymL E3VS8KkObuc/edit#23See Page 21 and 22 for more information about Education Leads Home.Morton, M.H., Dworsky, A., Matjasko, J.L., Curry, S.R., Schlueter, D., Chaves, R. & Farrell, A.F. (2018). Missed Opportunities: YouthHomelessness in America. Chicago: Voices of Youth Count. Available at: ates-ofyouth-homelessness/4Robertson, M.J., Toro, P.A. (2012). Homeless Youth: Research, Intervention, and Policy. The Global Orphan Project. Available 6/Homeless-Youth.pdf5Bryan-Benoit, J. (2013). Family Characteristics and Runaway Youth. Chicago: National Runaway Safeline. Available r-fin al2.pdf6Ingram, E.S., Bridgeland, J.M., Reed, B. & Atwell, M. (2016). Hidden in Plain Sight. Washington, D.C.: America’s Promise Alliance.Available at: -sight7Summers, A. (2015). Disproportionality Rates for Children of Color in Foster Care. Reno: National Council of Juvenile and FamilyCourt Judges. Available at: 02013%20Dispro%20TAB%20Final.pdf8Wilson, B.D.M., Cooper, K., Kastanis, A., Nezhad, S. (2014). Sexual and Gender Minority Youth in Foster Care: AssessingDisproportionality and Disparities in Los Angeles. Los Angeles: The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. Available nt/uploads/LAFYS report final-aug-2014.pdf

9Courtney, M., Dworsky, A., Lee, J.S., & Raap, M. (2005). Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth:Outcomes at Age 19. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. Available cs/18690-Midwest Evaluation-Outcomes at Ages 23 and 24.pdf10Goldrick-Rab, S., Richardson, J., Schneider, J.l, Hernandez, A., & Cady, C. (2018). Still Hungry and Homeless in College. Madison:Wisconsin Hope Lab. Available at: mVGqQtsLB3qV-ymL E3VS8KkObuc/edit11Arras-Emrey, M. (2016). Actions Needed to Improve Access to Federal Financial Assistance for Homeless and Foster Youth.Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Accountability Office. Available at: se Connection. State Laws Supporting College Students Experiencing Homelessness. (2017). Washington, D.C.:SchoolHouse Connection. Available at: loads/2017/02/statehigheredlaws.pdf13Crutchfield, R.M., Chambers, R.M., & Duffield, B. (2016). “Jumping through the hoops to get financial aid for college students whoare homeless: policy analysis of the college cost reduction and access act of 2007.” Families in Society: The Journal of ContemporarySocial Services, 97(3), 191-9914SchoolHouse Connection. (2017). “This is how I’m going to make a life for myself:” An Analysis of FAFSA Data and Barriers toFinancial Need for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth. Retrieved from: loads/2017/02/Formatted-FAFSA-Report.pdf

15The FAFSA does not collect information on the number of homeless students attending postsecondary institutions. It also collectsno information on applicants experiencing homelessness who remain with their parents, or on students who become homeless aftercompleting the FAFSA. The FAFSA data reflect only youth who self-identify as unaccompanied homeless youth at the time theycomplete the application. In addition, based on the priority of questions on the web-based FAFSA, the data collected onunaccompanied homeless youth exclude applicants who, when they completed the application, provided more than half of adependent’s support or were 24 years or older, married, in a graduate program, in active military duty, veterans, orphans, formerfoster youth, wards of the court, emancipated minors, or in legal guardianship. Youth in these categories are considered“independent students” and do not need to be verified as homeless unaccompanied youth pursuant to the Higher Education Act’sverification provisions. Therefore, the information about homeless students provided in the U.S. Department of Education dataaddresses only a small fraction of the FAFSA applicants, as well as college students more generally, who might be homeless. Becausethere is no national source of data on the number of homeless students attending postsecondary institutions, the total number ofcollege students experiencing homelessness is unknown, and, because of the data limitations described above, such an estimatecannot be derived from the FAFSA data.16U.S. Department of Education data indicate only 14% of all students experiencing homelessness stay in homeless shelters. InWisconsin Hope Lab’s Still Hungry and Homeless in College, only 8% of homeless college students stayed in shelters.17ED’s 2018-19 Application and Verification Guide is clear that: “If a student does not have and cannot get documentation from anyof the authorities given on page 27, you (the financial aid administrator) must determine if she is an unaccompanied youth who ishomeless or is self-supporting and at risk of being homeless. It is important to make homeless youth determinations on a case-bycase basis . The determination may be based on a documented interview with the student if there is no written documentationavailable.” U.S. Department of Education. Application and Verification Guide 2018-2019.

Federal financial aid is a critical component of basic needs in higher education. Without it, higher education simply is not an option for many low-income students, including homeless and former foster youth. Yet, ironically, financial aid may be overlooked in discussions of basic needs in higher education. Youth experiencing homelessness and .

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