05/28/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Walking the Dog

I asked one of our team, Linda Huddle, what she would say about homeless students on a blog like this. So here's what she did say:

I love to walk my dog. One summer walking to a park near my home, I got to know a group of children who played there on the swings and open spaces in the warm evenings. They came without shoes or adult supervision and loved my Jack Russell terrier named Grace. So we got to know each other a bit as they played with Grace. One evening one of the little girls was there by herself and surprised me by asking if I had any food. She said that she and her mom were renting a room in one of the houses near the park. Her mother had left her alone overnight without dinner.

In these difficult days when someone we know personally may be losing their housing due to a job loss or home foreclosure, we feel helpless to give a hand to that friend or acquaintance. However, there are ways we can assist someone who is facing the loss of their housing. By educating ourselves about the rights of homeless children and passing on that information, we can empower families to protect and support their children's education.

McKinney Vento federal legislation provides specific support for a student who is homeless. Families who qualify for this help from their local school district may be living doubled up in housing with other families for financial reasons, living in motels, campgrounds, renting a room in a house or staying in a shelter. Each school district in the United States has, by law, identified an administrator to act as the "Homeless Liaison." It is the responsibility of that person to make sure that homeless students are enrolled immediately in school whether or not they have all of the needed records for enrollment. The child also is able to stay in his or her current school if this is practical, even if the school is in a different school district.

Besides being enrolled in school immediately or choosing to stay in the school the child previously attended and having an administrator to help enroll the student, there are other measures to support a homeless student. Transportation to and from school, immediate access to free or reduced school lunches, and funds for gym clothes and other school essentials are available. To learn more about McKinney Vento legislation, there are many great websites including the National Center for Homeless Education at SERVE, which is funded by the United States Department of Education.

Of course, in Southern California, School on Wheels is available to help homeless children enroll in school and provide a student with his or her own tutor. Backpacks, school supplies and uniforms are also available through our nonprofit.