According to the Indiana Department of Education’s webpage on homeless youth, over 29,000 children experience homelessness each year in Indiana. But what does it mean for a student to be homeless or at-risk of homelessness? Further, how can a student be identified as one, and what does that mean for college financial aid purposes?
Students will at times deny they are homeless because they do not understand the definition of homeless or do not want the stigma of homelessness. Many students incorrectly assume being homeless only includes living in a car, shelter, park or similar living arrangement but there are many other situations where the student is considered an unaccompanied homeless youth. Homeless situations include:
- students who, without their parents, live in transitional housing or live in a homeless shelter;
- a student fleeing an abusive parent;
- a student who is kicked out of the parent’s home due to pregnancy or when the student’s parents ask them to leave due to inadequate income to support the student and they move in with a teacher or relative or when housing ceases to be fixed, regular and adequate;
- many other situations may be considered where a student could be considered an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or at risk of being homeless. We advise that a student work closely with the federal homeless liaison designated by the school district and/or other agency representatives to determine what the best route is for the student.
The McKinney-Vento Act addresses access and support for unaccompanied youth who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness and provides guidance to students, financial aid professionals and high school guidance counselors.
Students who plan to attend college must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
in order to be considered for financial aid. There are specific instructions for a student to determine if they must complete the FAFSA as a dependent student (requires parent financial information), or independent student (does not require parent financial information). The McKinney-Vento Act addresses students who ordinarily would need to report parent financial information but have extreme circumstances that make it impossible for them to report parent finances. This allows them to complete the FAFSA and apply for financial aid to attend college. According to The National Center for Homeless Education, the determination of an unaccompanied youth who is homeless can be made by the following agencies:
- Local school district homeless liaison
a. The school district homeless liaison should be someone within the district who has enough contact with kids to be able to effectively identify kids who are homeless. It’s also helpful to have someone who can either set some policy or has good connections with the people in the district that can set policy. It should not be a superintendent because of conflicts of interest or an administrative assistant, but social workers, counselors, nurses, school food directors, directors of student services, transportation or even assistant superintendents have all worked well for the homeless liaison.
- The director of a Runaway or Homeless Youth Act funded shelter
- The director of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funded shelter
- A College Financial Aid Administrator
A student who has received a determination from one of the above agencies can complete the FAFSA as an independent student and will not have to submit parent financial information. What if a student completes the FAFSA and identifies him/herself as an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or at-risk of homelessness, but has not received an official determination from an agency?
- The student can still identify him/herself as an unaccompanied youth who is homeless when completing the online FAFSA. The information will go to the financial aid office the student has listed on the FAFSA and the student MUST follow up with the financial aid administrator and seek the determination. This will most likely require the student to provide the financial aid administrator with letters or documentation from clergy, principals, guidance counselors, doctors or other people who can verify for the financial aid administrator that the student is an unaccompanied homeless youth. The financial aid office should be able to provide the student with the necessary documents to receive this determination.
A student who does not receive this determination, does not otherwise qualify as an independent student, and does not submit parent financial information will only be eligible to receive unsubsidized Direct Loans. The student cannot seek a determination as an unaccompanied youth who is homeless merely because the parents refuse to report financial information on the FAFSA.