Homeless Education Resource Network (HERN)
The Department of Opportunity Youth coordinates the school district’s response to students and families experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. Within the department, the Homeless Education Resource Network (HERN) assembles resources, knowledge, and partnerships to address homelessness as a challenge families grapple with and as a barrier to student success that it represents.
Who is Considered Homeless?
Guided by the McKinney-Vento Act, HERN recognizes “homeless children and youths” as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. The term covers the following.
- Children and youths who are
- sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason (sometimes referred to as “doubled-up”);
- living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to lack of alternative adequate accommodations;
- living in emergency or transitional shelters; or - abandoned in hospitals;
- Children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings;
- Children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and
- Migratory children who qualify as homeless because they are living in circumstances described above.
An approach to addressing homelessness among students involves partnerships. Through the School-Housing Partnership, HERN collaborates with housing services providers Metro Housing Boston, ABCD, and FamilyAid Boston to map referral points within those organizations for students and families to access and to deliver training to school-based homeless liaisons.
The training includes housing and shelter access topics and equips the homeless liaisons to support students and families experiencing homlessness by applying the tools, knowledge, and resources they gain to navigating families onto a path to immediate shelter or to available opportunities that result in housing stability.
Since the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, the City of Boston and BPS have been investing in addressing the needs of students and families experiencing homeless through direct per pupil allocations to school budgets. With an annual disbursement of over $1 million through a weighted student formula, schools have resources to implement innovative approaches.
Over 4,000 students benefit from the initiative and the dollars are allocated directly to schools with the belief that school leaders - those closest to students - are best positioned to apply the funds for impact. As a result, some school-based initiatives include clothing closets, food distribution programs, enhanced case management, and more school-community partnerships.
HERN provides ongoing consultation and professional development to schools, ensuring individualized resources reach students in support of their success in the classroom. HERN also remains alert to innovative opportunities such as an upstream homeless prevention initiative with FamilyAid Boston and a housing voucher referral program with Boston Housing Authority.
The McKinney-Vento Act provides for students to remain in either their schools of origin when displaced outside the school district owing to homelessness or to enroll in the new district. The Department of Opportunity Youth arranges transportation for students who opt to remain, dependent on the drive time to and from school.
Under the McKinney-Vento Act, students experiencing homlessness during the course of the school year, but become permanently housed, may also exercise the option to remain enrolled at their schools of origin with transportation arrangements as necessary through to the end of the school year in June.
Superintendent Circular: Students Experiencing Homelessness
As a resource, the Department of Opportunity Youth also hosts the position of the point-of-contact (POC) for the school district with the Department of Children and Families (DCF). The POC is focused on the success of students in foster care, ensuring they are identified, enrolled, and in regular school attendance.
The POC contributes to the process of arriving at best interest determinations in collaboration with DCF representatives and also arranges for transportation that might be needed for students in foster care. Additionally, the POC facilitates professional development opportunities for school district staff designed to promote educational stability for students in foster care.
- Children and youths who are