Twenty minutes north of UNCG’s main campus is the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE), a technical assistance center that has been a part of the university for nearly 20 years.

The center, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, is driven by data. And there’s one number that stands out above the rest.

It’s the number of children and youth across the country identified as homeless: 1.3 million.

Homelessness in the United States takes on different forms. Families might be staying in a shelter, spending nights in a car or couch hopping, relying on the kindness of friends and family and bouncing from home to home at a moment’s notice.

In schools, it’s not easy to identify young people in these situations. Homeless students often go unnoticed and, as a result, lack the educational resources they desperately need.

That’s where NCHE steps in. Housed in UNCG’s SERVE Center – whose mission is to work with educators and policymakers to improve education – NCHE is the technical assistance and information center for the federal Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program.

EHCY oversees the implementation of the McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth Assistance Act. The law grants specific rights to homeless children and youth, such as immediate enrollment in school, transportation, free meals, clothing, school supplies and tutorial services. However, accessing these resources can be difficult, and many families are unaware that they are available.

“Homeless children and youth and their families don’t have the time and resources to try to navigate systems across cities or states,” says George Hancock, NCHE director. “We work with coordinators and liaisons to provide a coordinated point where these families have access to the resources they need.”

NCHE publishes hundreds of different briefs, handbooks and toolkits, holds more than 40 webinars each year and fields approximately 200 emails and calls each month in order to support the state coordinators and local liaisons that work directly with homeless youth.

And it’s not just K-12 students who receive support from NCHE. Homelessness on college campuses continues to be an issue across the state and the country – approximately 58,000 college students nationally reported that they experienced homelessness during the 2014-15 academic year.

While research and evaluation are critical to the center’s mission, it’s the passion behind the percentages that define the work of NCHE staff.

“It’s never just a job,” says Diana Bowman, senior program specialist at NCHE and former director of the center. “People are so invested in the issue and are so passionate. This field attracts the most amazing people who work tirelessly on behalf of homeless children and youth.”

According to Hancock, finding solutions to these multi-layered problems can be a difficult task. Yet despite the complexities of the situation, one thing is certain: All children have extraordinary potential.

“Children are children. They want to learn and they want to be engaged,” Hancock says. “If you can find a way to light that spark, it doesn’t matter where they come from.”

 

This post was adapted from a UNCG Research Magazine story written by Alyssa Bedrosian. To read the full story and more, click here.

Photography by Mike Dickens