group of students sitting outdoors and reading, working on homework and interacting with each other.

Collaborating with schools

Schools and shelters play a vital role in ensuring children and families have access to attending school regularly, and participating in all school functions and activities. Shelters and other housing providers offer families and students a safe haven alongside other needed resources. Schools often function as community hubs and are natural conduits for sharing information about community resources with a wide range of local partners. Schools also have frequent and ongoing contact with students attending their schools. Shelters can partner with their local schools and the schools’ homeless liaisons as an additional local partner and as a resource to help in identifying children, families and unaccompanied youth. Through this partnership, schools and shelters can collaborate to make sure students are able to receive transportation to attend school and that students and families can participate in school-related activities.

Tips for Communicating with Schools

Education is a critical strategy for ending homelessness among families and unaccompanied youth. In the short-term, schools provide meals, clothes, physical and mental health care, and safety and stability to children and youth whose lives have been disrupted by homelessness. In the long-term, schools provide students with the education they need to get good jobs and earn adequate income to achieve financial independence as adults. Source:

Understand and become knowledgeable about the definition of homelessness and the rights and services for students under McKinney-Vento.

Learn who the homeless liaisons are in your community’s school districts and develop regular rapport with them.

Offer cross-trainings with homeless liaisons to better understand each other’s roles and how best to serve McKinney-Vento students living in shelters and/or temporary housing.

Help students and families feel comfortable approaching their school and homeless liaison.

The Importance of Coordination and Collaboration

Housing supports in Pennsylvania

How do I get immediate housing support?

If you are at risk of getting evicted or need help to make ends meet, the Emergency Shelter Allowance (ESA) is a program of Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services (DHS). It assists families and individuals who are homeless or experiencing housing instability and who need financial assistance in order to:

  • Prevent eviction or foreclosure.
  • Obtain permanent housing.
  • Obtain temporary shelter.


An individual or family may also be eligible for ESA if they are leaving a domestic violence situation. To learn more about how to obtain ESA support contact your local County Assistance Office.

If your family needs a room, place to stay in a shelter or emergency housing, access the Finding Your Way in PA mobile or web app to locate shelter and emergency housing closest to you.

group of young students enjoying lunch and laughing

What is McKinney-Vento and how does it relate to shelter and housing support?

The federal McKinney-Vento Act ensures educational rights, protections, and services for homeless children and youth.

Various living arrangements meet the McKinney-Vento definition of homeless therefore qualifying children or youth as eligible for services under the Act. Under McKinney-Vento, students are considered to be experiencing homelessness if they lack a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” This can look like:

  • Living in inadequate or substandard housing, which can be infested or lacking heat, water, electricity, or a working kitchen or bathroom.
  • Living in a hotel or motel, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations.
  • Living in a shelter or transitional housing.
  • Living in a place not meant for human habitation, such as a car or abandoned building, public spaces, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings.
  • Living doubled up: temporarily sharing another person’s housing due to a lack of housing or economic hardship. This is a common living situation for many students experiencing homelessness.

A student’s housing status is recorded based on their first reported experience of housing instability during the school year and enrollment process.

Learn more about McKinney-Vento with this McKinney-Vento Act: Quick Reference guide.

Whether you are a parent, youth experiencing homelessness, or a professional who works with families and children the Let’s Educate Every Child and Youth resources contain specific information and guidance based on your role.

Educational Rights for School-Aged Youth (including head start and early education youth) In English In Spanish

How do I feed my family?

Food assistance programs for children and families, according to, “that are both functional and easily accessible go a long way toward helping you save money – money that you can use for household expenses, transportation, and other necessities.”

Access the Finding Your Way in PA mobile or web app to locate meal services and programs closest to you.

Students experiencing homelessness are also eligible for free school meals, but students may not receive meals if the school district is not aware of their homelessness. Every public school and charter school in Pennsylvania has a homeless liaison designated in the school that can support you in making sure your child/children have school meals.

There are also additional Pennsylvania government-funded programs like Women Infants and Children (WIC) benefits, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and Pennsylvania food banks that can help provide nutritious food that you need to keep your family healthy.