How to provide food supports to homeless students

4 strategies for helping these vulnerable students and their families, who struggle to find regular meals, during school closures related to the coronavirus pandemic
By: | May 12, 2020
gettyimages.com: Photo/Alto Sigrid Olssongettyimages.com: Photo/Alto Sigrid Olsson

Students experiencing homelessness often rely on school meals as a primary source of their daily nutrition. But some struggle—particularly during unanticipated school closures related to the novel coronavirus pandemic—to find regular meals.

Local educational agencies (LEAs) should develop plans to help students experiencing homelessness cover food and other expenses related to their participation in school and extracurricular activities. The National Center for Homeless Education at SERVE published a brief in 2012, Access to Food for Homeless and Highly Mobile Students, providing the following strategies:

· LEAs may help families experiencing homelessness and unaccompanied homeless youths apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to buy food at grocery stores, certain retail stores, and some restaurants.

· LEAs may refer children and youths to afterschool programs, day care centers, and homeless shelters that provide food through the Child and Adult Care Food Program, which pays for meals and snacks for eligible children enrolled at participating child care centers, family child care homes, homeless shelters, and afterschool programs.

· LEAs may create weekend food programs through collaborations among schools and organizations, such as community foundations, civic groups, churches, and food banks. Also, collaborate with grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and restaurants.

· When other sources of food are not available, LEAs may use funds set aside under Title I, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95, and subgrant funds under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act to pay for food.

Purchasing food is an allowable use of Title I, Part A set-aside funds whenever reasonable and necessary to enable homeless students to take advantage of educational opportunities and when funding is not reasonably available from another source. Set-side funds may be used for homeless students in any school regardless of whether they attend a participating school. Education for Homeless Children and Youths Program Non-Regulatory Guidance, M-5.

McKinney-Vento authorizes subgrant funds to be used to provide food to attract, engage, and retain homeless children and youths in public school programs and services, as well as on an emergency basis to enable homeless children and youths to attend school and participate fully. Section 723(d)(7) and Section 723(d)(16).

Homeless education experts note that such food purchases may come in the form of “gift cards” to grocery stores, certain retail stores, and some restaurants with receipts to document line-item purchases if needed and to the extent allowable under the Uniform Grants Guidance.

Other homeless education support strategies

A 2017 NCHE brief provides ways LEAs can ensure that costs do not prevent students experiencing homelessness from participating in school activities. Ensuring Full Participation in Extracurricular Activities for Students Experiencing Homelessness lists those strategies as:

· Using funding sources and strategies for McKinney-Vento students comparable to those used to allow other low-income students to participate.

· Waiving fees.

· Paying for equipment and fees with LEA funds or appropriate federal funds, such as McKinney-Vento subgrant funds.

· Seeking student activity sponsorships from the Parent Teacher Association, local civic organizations, and businesses.

· Using private donations or holding fundraisers.

Johnny Jackson covers homeless and at-risk students and other Title I issues for ESEA Now, a DA sister publication. Links to documents mentioned above are available to ESEA Now subscribers.