Frequently Asked Questions about Homelessness

  1. Who is considered homeless?
  2. Who can help with homelessness?
  3. Who is the first person to contact if you’re concerned that a student or family is homeless or is about to become homeless?
  4. What happens when a student’s family doesn’t have their own housing and has to live with another family?
  5. What happens when a family gets assigned to temporary housing several towns away from here. Do their children have to transfer to schools in the new town?
  6. What happens when a student who was living in a shelter here in Cambridge, moves into permanent housing in another town? Does this student need to transfer to a school in the new district?
  7. I’ve noticed a child in my class who seems to be hungry all the time. I’m worried about whether there is enough food at home. What can I do?
  8. A parent just confided in me that the family can no longer afford to pay their rent and the landlord has started eviction proceedings. How can I help them?
  9. A child in my classroom doesn’t have adequate winter clothing. What should I do?
  10. What help is there for teens who get kicked out of their house. How can we help them find housing?
  11. Are young people who “run away” considered homeless?
  12. If a student’s family has to move in with other relatives because the parents can’t afford their rent anymore, would they be considered homeless?
  13. Who can help with questions about health care for homeless students and families?
  14. Who can help if a student or their family is experiencing domestic violence that could lead to the family becoming homeless if they flee the abuser?

If your question is not answered here, please contact Mary Grassi, CPS Homeless Education Liaison (617.349.6490).


1. Who is considered homeless?
According to the federal government’s definition of homelessness (which schools are required to follow) anyone who falls into the following categories is considered to be homeless and is eligible for services:

  • does not have a permanent home
  • lives in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds
  • is in state care or custody
  • lives in cars, parks, public places, abandoned buildings, sub-standard buildings, or similar settings
  • shares housing of other persons due to the loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason
  • is considered an unaccompanied youth (youth not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian)

2. Who can help with homelessness?
As required by federal law, Cambridge has a Homeless Education Liaison – Mary Grassi. You can reach her at the Title 1 Office (617.349.6490) or via email.

The Homeless Education Liaison makes sure that all homeless families in the district are identified and are receiving services to help students in those families succeed academically. She also makes sure that the district is in compliance with the state and federal provisions of the Mckinney-Vento Act.

Cambridge also has two Homeless Service Coordinators, who are under the direction of the Homeless Education Liaison. They help individual families link to school-based services and make referrals for community-based services.

  • Nancy Wyse can be reached at 617.349.6841 or via email.
  • Debbie Bonilla can be reached at 617.233.4348 or 617.349.6492 or via email.

3. Who is the first person to contact if you’re concerned that a student or family is homeless or is about to become homeless?
If your school has a Family Liaison, they are always good people to start with because they know of resources and individuals in the community who can assist families in a variety of ways. If your school does not have a Family Liaison, you can contact Mary Grassi, the CPS Homeless Education Liaison (617.349.6490). Her role is to make sure that all homeless families in the district are identified and are receiving services to help students in those families succeed academically. She also makes sure that the district is in compliance with the state and federal provisions of the Mckinney-Vento Act.

4. What happens when a student and/or the student’s family doesn’t have their own housing and has to live with another family?
This is called doubling-up and is considered a form of homelessness, even though it may not always seem so to an outsider. Families that lose their housing because of economic hardship, catastrophic events or similar reasons no longer have a permanent home and are therefore considered to be homeless. Young people who are unable to live with their families and who take refuge in the homes of friends or relatives are also considered homeless, and are therefore entitled to services and supports available through the city and private agencies.

Some people are reluctant to let others know when they are living doubled-up because they don’t want to put their host’s living situation in jeopardy. Many leases stipulate the number of people who may live in a house or apartment, and if a landlord finds out that the number of residents exceeds what the lease allows, all the residents risk becoming homeless.

5. What happens when a family becomes homeless and gets assigned to temporary housing several towns away from Cambridge? Do their children have to transfer to schools in the new town?
According to the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, when a student becomes homeless they have the right to either remain in their school of origin (where they were attending when they became homeless) or to attend school in the town where they are now temporarily residing (when in a shelter or doubling up). Students who choose to remain in their school of origin have the right to remain there until the end of the school year in which they get permanent housing.
Students who chose to enroll in the school district where they have moved for temporary housing must be enrolled immediately, even if they do not bring the records (including immunization records) usually required for enrollment with them. If a homeless student arrives without records, the school district's designated Homeless Education Liaison must assist the family and contact the previously attended school system to obtain the required records. In Cambridge, record retrieval is usually done by the Family Resource Center.

6. What happens when a student who was living in a shelter here in Cambridge, moves into permanent housing in another town? Does this student need to transfer to a school in the new district?
According to the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, students who have been identified as homeless have a right to either remain in their school of origin or to attend school where they are temporarily residing. Transportation is provided between districts as long as the family is homeless, but when they obtain permanent housing, transportation out of their new home-town is no longer provided. Students may still choose to finish out the year in their school where they lived while temporarily housed, but they (or their families) will be responsible for finding their own transportation to and from school.

7. I’ve noticed a child in my class who seems to be hungry all the time. I’m worried about whether there is enough food at home. What can I do?
The unfortunate truth is that chronic hunger is even more common than homelessness. If your school has a Family Liaison, talk to them about this situation. They may already be working with this family. Your principal and/or school nurse may already have a relationship with the family. You should check with them as well.

Your school’s front office staff, family liaison, school counselor and school nurse all have information about local food pantries, the weekend backpack program and the summer lunch program. These resources may be helpful for families facing food insecurity.

8. A parent just confided in me that the family can no longer afford to pay their rent and the landlord has started eviction proceedings. How can I help them?
The Cambridge Multi-Service Center (617.349.6340) has a program that can help families facing eviction. Your family liaison and/or the Homeless Service Coordinators can help families contact the program.

9. A child in my classroom doesn’t have adequate winter clothing. What should I do?

If you know the student is homeless you can call Mary Grassi, the district’s Homeless Education Liaison. You can reach her at the Title 1 Office (617.349.6490) or via email. If the student is not homeless, or if you are not sure of their family situation, the best place to start is with the Family Liaison if your school has one, or with the school counselor or school nurse.

10. What help is there for teens who have been kicked out of their house. How can we help them find housing?
The sad truth is that there is very little housing specifically for homeless youth, and many young people feel unsafe in the shelter system that serves adults. Added to this is the fact that agencies are not allowed to serve youths under the age of 18 without parental consent. Students who have been kicked out or have run away are often unwilling or unable to obtain parental consent for services. One helpful agency here in Cambridge is Youth On Fire (617.661.2508), a drop-in center that serves young people between the ages of 14-24, and can provide a variety of mental and physical health services during weekdays.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters is a Boston agency that serves homeless youth. Their mobile medical van parks in Harvard Square Monday - Friday evenings from 7 - 8:30PM and offers crisis intervention, referrals to emergency shelter and survival items, as well as medical care and counseling.

Mary Grassi, the Homeless Education Liaison (617.349.6490) can help students who are not currently living with their families, but who have found housing elsewhere, to figure out what is required in order to stay enrolled and on track for academic achievement.

11. Are young people who “run away” considered homeless?
See question #1.

12. If a student’s family has to move in with other relatives because the parents can’t afford their rent anymore, would they be considered homeless?
See question #1.

13. Who can help with questions about health care for homeless students and families?
Jean Burbidge at Healthcare for the Homeless (617.591.6765) can help homeless families and individuals access healthcare services by connecting them to a multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and social workers who specialize in providing care to people experiencing homelessness.

14. Who can help if a student or their family is experiencing domestic violence that could lead to the family becoming homeless if they flee the abuser?
Transition House in Cambridge has a 24-hour crisis line (617.661.7203) where callers can receive information about preparing safety plans. Callers can also ask general questions about domestic violence, receive referrals, and get additional information about programs and services.

If your question is not answered here, please contact Mary Grassi, Homeless Education Liaison (617.349.6490).

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