Homelessness and Special Circumstances

Everyone should have access to higher education! If someone you know is experiencing homelessness or has a special circumstance they’re dealing with, there are resources to help them on their academic and financial journey.

The first step all college-bound seniors should take, regardless of their personal circumstance, is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. This form is an annual application for federal and state financial assistance for college.

On this application, students will be asked a series of questions to determine their dependency status. If a student is independent, they won’t need to provide parental information on the FAFSA. If a student is experiencing homelessness they will not need to provide parental information, however, they should talk to their college financial aid office to confirm their living arrangements. Federal Student Aid defines a homeless student as someone who lacks “fixed, regular and adequate housing.”

Talk to your high school counselor! Counselors can work with the homeless student liaison assigned to their school for the appropriate documentation. Many counselors also know of local resources to assist homeless students in meeting their basic needs.

Check out StudentAid.gov for information on all types of funding for college. On this site, common questions are addressed about homeless youth and federal financial aid.

What about special circumstances? Students who aren’t homeless, but are unable to provide parental information will indicate they have a “special circumstance” on their FAFSA. This allows students to skip the parent portion of the form. They will, however, be required to provide documentation confirming their special circumstance before financial aid is approved and awarded.

Special circumstances can include escaping an abusive home environment, the inability to contact parents, the students’ parents being incarcerated, parents who refuse to provide their information on the FAFSA, and more. Be careful! If a student CAN provide their parental information at a later date, they should NOT select “special circumstance.” Otherwise, they may only be eligible to receive unsubsidized student loans. When in doubt, students should talk with their college financial aid officer to explain the situation.

Find on-campus resources! Many college campuses have resources to help students access year-round housing, food banks and academic support groups. Check with the Office of Resident Life on-campus to discover available resources.

Here are some additional resources for students experiencing homelessness:

Pivot works with young people lacking stability in their lives. Oklahoma students in need of housing and assistance should check out Pivot. https://www.pivotok.org/

National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY): This program connects students with resources that can help them be successful throughout every year of school. Learn more about the program at NAEHCY.org.

National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE): NCHE offers an educational helpline for students experiencing homelessness. See how their helpline can guide you at NCHE.ed.gov.

Local Family and Youth Services: Family and Youth Services agencies provide living arrangement resources for homeless students. Find your local Family and Youth Services office at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/fysb.

Call 2-1-1: This hotline helps students locate assistance with shelters, food and other support groups.