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Factors That Can Make a Difference in Meeting the Needs of Homeless Students in Schools: Perceptions of District Homeless Liaisons in Ohio Open Access

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The needs of homeless students are significant and varied. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act helps ensure homeless students can access a quality education. One of the key provisions is the requirement that all LEAs identify a liaison to be in charge of meeting the needs of homeless students. The purpose of this study was to understand the perceptions of district liaisons in regard to the needs of the homeless students they serve and the factors that facilitate and hinder their ability to meet these needs. The study was designed as a qualitative study relying primarily on interviews with 20 liaisons from a representative sample of districts in the state of Ohio. The findings indicate that homeless students face a number of needs, including access to basic necessities like food, clothing, shelter, and transportation, and to social services including mental health services and drug treatment centers. Liaisons indicated that they played a less direct role in supporting students’ academic needs, instead relying on school-based staff members to support homeless students’ academic needs. Liaisons identified a number of factors that facilitate and hinder their ability to meet the needs of their homeless students. The availability or lack of district resources like funding and personnel were especially important. In some districts, superintendents had prioritized hiring additional social or community workers. Liaisons indicated they relied a great deal on the support of these personnel. Further, the availability (or lack) of community-based service agencies greatly impacted liaisons’ work. Finally, liaisons faced a number of competing demands that made their roles challenging. The vast majority of liaisons held another full-time role in the district, meaning they had limited time to devote to the role of liaison. Liaisons also indicated that navigating both community perceptions of homelessness (whether identified families were “truly” homeless or deserving of support) and the proper role of the school in the community were added challenges. These findings suggest that additional personnel to help meet the needs of homeless students and greater coordination between schools and social service agencies would benefit both liaisons and the homeless students they serve.

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