Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness: A Nationwide Call to Action

Stepping to board the plane to New Orleans, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my immense privilege to be part of a community that cares about our most marginalized youth: youth experiencing homelessness. 

The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) just hosted their annual conference in New Orleans, Louisiana to engage in critical conversations to ensure educational equity and excellence for youth experiencing homelessness. NAEHCY is a national association of educators, administrators, counselors, McKinney-Vento* liaisons, policy advocates, and nonprofit organizations dedicated to ensuring all youth have the ability and opportunity to thrive, regardless of their housing situation. Bringing together professionals and youth advocates from across the nation who serve the most vulnerable population of youth offers the chance to share best practices while also providing space for connection and collaboration.

*Under federal guidelines, McKinney-Vento youth are considered homeless when they lack a fixed, adequate, nighttime residence such as living with multiple families, couch surfing, or living in motels (McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act). This applies to 100% of the youth served by Project Hope Alliance. 

Project Hope Alliance was honored to have our presentation selected as a workshop during the conference. Our presentation, “Creating A Safe Space: Implementing Trauma-Informed Care Into the Workplace and Services” provided an overview of the importance of recognizing trauma and the ways in which it impacts individuals, especially youth experiencing homelessness. Our presentation focused on the five pillars of trauma-informed care: Safety, Choice, Trustworthiness, Collaboration, and Empowerment (Fallot & Harris, 2015). 

As all of our youth experiencing homelessness have experienced some form of trauma, we know how crucial it is to approach our youth with empathy because trauma changes brain development during critical developmental years (Bouillier & Blair, 2016), emotional regulation and social-emotional skill development (Blitz et al., 2016), and can affect long term physical health into adulthood (Felitti et al., 1998). Our workshop sought to provide hope and to understand the strengths of youth experiencing homelessness by examining the systems and structures that can impact their outcomes. 

Whether we were presenting to a room full of advocates for youth experiencing homelessness, engaging in dialogue about how to best collaborate with service providers and educators, or meeting new partners, the NAEHCY conference provided the space for dialogue, commitment, curiosity, critical self-reflection, and learning. While NAEHCY was a phenomenal opportunity to connect and collaborate with national partners, I am excited to continue this work at home in Orange County, especially during November where we highlight Youth Homelessness. 

My deepest thanks to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth for hosting this important event and to all of our supporters who are working with us to disrupt homelessness. Being surrounded by almost 3,000 practitioners who dedicate their lives to serving youth experiencing homelessness and ensuring they have the resources and support to thrive filled me with hope. I left inspired and honored to do the work I do, with the people I partner with on a daily basis. My commitment to educational equity and social justice for McKinney-Vento youth remains and I feel more connected to the resilience and strength of our youth.

We look forward to continuing to partner with our cities, schools, and our generous philanthropic community to provide trauma-informed case management and ensure that our youth have the awareness and access to valuable resources and the support they need to thrive. 

Chief Partnership Officer, Shelby Feliciano-Sabala and District Manager, Jocelyn Balderrama.