The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (Public Law 100-77), which was enacted by Congress in 1987, is the primary federal legislation addressing the problem of homelessness in the United States. The McKinney-Vento Act deals with a variety of assistance for the homeless, including emergency shelter and food, housing, health and mental health care, education, and job training. The McKinney-Vento Act has been amended four times, and the amendments have, for the most part, expanded the scope and strengthened the provisions of the original legislation.
THe 1994 amendments were part of the reauthorization of the Improving America's Schools Act. This legislation provided continued support for previous policies and increased legal protections of homeless children and youth to ensure that they had greater access to a free, appropriate public education.
The law says that a child or youth without a fixed, regular and adequate residence is homeless. It does not matter how long the child or youth has been without a home. It also does not matter if the child or youth is living with a parent or is separated from parents. Under the Act, students are homeless if they are:
- Living with a friend, relative or someone else because they lost their home or can't afford a home
- Staying in a hotel or motel
- Living in an emergency or transitional shelter or a domestic violence shelter
- Staying in substandard housing
- Living in a car, park, public place, abandoned building or bus or train station
- Awaiting foster care placement
- Living in a campground or an inadequate trailer home
- Abandoned in a hospital; or living in a runaway or homeless youth shelter.