Homeless Information for Families


 McKinney-Vento Program Assistance


Who Qualifies?

  • Children and youth sharing housing due to economic hardship, loss of housing or similar reason
  • Children and youth living in motels, hotels, due to lack of alternative accommodations;
  • Children and youth living in emergency or transitional shelters;
  • Children and youth living in foster care placement;
  • Children and youth living in places that are not regular sleeping accomodations for people such as public places, cars, parks, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or tran stations or similar setting.
  • Children and youth not residing with their legal parent or guardian
  • Runaway youth

Assistance with the following:

  • Enrollment
  • Transportation
  • Attendance
  • School Selection
  • Educational Resources
  • Community Resources


McKinney Vento Act

McKinney-Vento Law (A Brief Description)  The word homeless typically does not bring to mind images of children and youth, but the reality is many homeless people are under the age of 18. Some of them are a part of families experiencing homelessness, while others are on their own, despite their young age.  The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. § 11431 et seq.) is a federal law that addresses the needs of homeless people, including the educational needs of children and youth.  This brief provides basic information about the scope of the problem, the impact of homelessness on education, and the rights of children and youth to a public education.

Who is homeless?  Subtitle VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (as reauthorized by Title X, Part C of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended) The term “homeless children and youth”— A. means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence…; and  B. includes — 2. children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement;  3. 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…  4. children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and  5. migratory children who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii).

Who is homeless? Schools use the definition of homeless provided in section 11434a of the McKinney-Vento Act. It states that any person who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence is homeless. While the law mandates the criteria of fixed, regular, and adequate to assess housing, it also provides several examples of homelessness. Sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason is the most common form of homelessness experienced by school-age children in the United States, with 75% of all homeless children living in doubled-up conditions (NCHE, 2013). Staying in emergency, family, domestic violence, and transitional living shelters is the next most common type of homelessness experienced by students. When faced with homelessness, some families are able to stay in hotels or motels; living in a hotel or motel due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations is the third most common type of homelessness reported by public schools. Many children and youth also live in unsheltered situations, which can include campgrounds or public places not meant for housing, such as parks, bus or train stations, and condemned or abandoned buildings.

In addition to providing a definition of homeless, the McKinney-Vento Act defines unaccompanied youth as youth who are “not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian” [42 U.S.C. § 11434a(6)]. Unaccompanied youth make up a much larger segment of the homeless population than many people realize. While not all unaccompanied youth lack fixed, regular, and adequate housing, nearly 60,000 unaccompanied youth qualified as homeless during the 2011- 2012 school year (NCHE, 2013). 2009a).

The McKinney-Vento Act addresses educational challenges created by homelessness and guarantees homeless students the right to enroll, attend, and succeed in school.  The law places the responsibility for guaranteeing the rights of homeless students on states and school districts. McKinney-Vento eligible students have the right to: • enroll in school immediately, even if lacking documents normally required for enrollment; • enroll in school and attend classes while the school gathers needed documents; • enroll in the local attendance area school or continue attending their school of origin (the school they attended when permanently housed or the school in which they were last enrolled), if that is the parent’s, guardian’s, or unaccompanied youth’s preference and is feasible.  If the school district believes the school selected is not in the student’s best interest, then the district must provide the parent, guardian, or unaccompanied youth with a written explanation of its position and inform him/her of the right to appeal its decision. For more information, download NCHE’s Dispute Resolution brief at http://center.serve.org/nche/briefs.php. • receive transportation to and from the school of origin, if requested by the parent, guardian, or unaccompanied youth; • receive educational services comparable to those provided to other students, according to the student’s need; and • not be stigmatized or segregated on the basis of homeless status.

What resources are available to help homeless students? • Every public school district has a local homeless education liaison to help identify, enroll, and support the education of students experiencing homelessness. NCHE provides assistance through a comprehensive website that includes a variety of materials, monthly webinars on various topics related to homelessness and education, and a national Helpline. To learn more or get assistance, visit the website at http://center.serve.org/nche/index.php or contact the Helpline at (800) 308-2145 or homeless@serve.org.


For more information contact:

  • State McKinney Vento Coordinator:  Justin Singleton (615) 253-3101 (email:  Justin.Singleton@tn.gov/education)
  • District  Homeless Coordinator:  Sarah Akard (423) 354-1000
  • District Homeless Liaison:  Melissa Dotson (423) 354-1767 (melissa.dotson@sullivank12.net)
  • District Homeless Liaison:  Linda Holden (423) 354-1115 (linda.holden@sullivank12.net)


Rights of Students (English)



Rights of Students (Spanish)



Parent Brochure (English)



Parent Brochure (Spanish)



McKinney Vento – Dispute Resolution



If you have a concern regarding your child’s rights, please contact any of the Sullivan County Department of Education’s Homeless Liaisons:

Sarah Akard (District Homeless Coordinator) (423) 354-1000

Melissa Dotson (District Homeless Liaison) (423) 354-1767/melissa.dotson@sullivank12.net

Linda Holden (District Homeless Liaison) (423) 354-1115/ linda.holden@sullivank12.net