Homeless Student Program

McKinney-Vento Act

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is a federal law which provides educational support for students who are experiencing homelessness. Children in housing transition have certain rights under this Act, including the right to immediate enrollment in school and transportation to and from the school of origin. See the information below to learn more.

Homeless Definition:

Under the McKinney-Vento Act, certain living situations are considered to be homeless that may not typically be recognized as homeless situations. These include: living doubled up with one or more families due to financial hardship or a similar reason, living in an inadequate mobile home or trailer park, living in transitional housing, and living temporarily in a hotel due to various circumstances. See below for the homeless definition as provided directly from the Act.

Every Student Succeeds Act: Title VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11431 et seq.)

The term “homeless children and youth”:

(A) means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence (within the meaning of section 103(a)(1); and includes –

(i) children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals;
(ii) children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings (within the meaning of section 103(a)(2)(C));
(iii) children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and
(iv) migratory children (as such term is defined in section 1309 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965) who qualify as homeless for the purposes of this subtitle because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii).

Who is Homeless? Additional Information

Students' Rights:

Under the McKinney-Vento Act, students experiencing homelessness have these rights:

School Selection

Students experiencing homelessness have two school enrollment options — the school of origin or the zoned school in their new location. The school of origin is the school that the student last attended before losing housing. Students who are in homeless situations must remain in their school of origin unless it is against the wishes of the parents or guardians, and only if it is in the best interest of the student. Students may remain in their school of origin the entire time they are experiencing homelessness and until the end of any academic year in which they move into permanent housing.


School districts must immediately enroll students who are in homeless situations, even if they do not have required documents, including school records, medical records and proof of residency. It is encouraged to provide these documents as soon as possible after the student is enrolled. For assistance with obtaining such documentation, please contact the HEARTH staff at 863-457-4709.


At a parent or guardian’s request, students who are experiencing homelessness must be provided with transportation to and from their school of origin, to the extent feasible. Feasibility is determined by considering the best interest of the student.

Free Meals

Students who are experiencing homelessness automatically qualify for free meals. Immediate eligibility is granted; no formal application is necessary.

Dispute Resolution

Whenever a dispute arises, the student must be admitted immediately to the requested school (school of origin OR zoned school) while the dispute is being resolved. When a determination has been made, the school district must provide the parent or guardian with a written explanation of its school placement decision and the right to appeal.

School Board Policy



Additional Information for Parents and Youth

Parent Information

Information For Parents

Our parent information will help you understand your child’s rights and the resources available to help you and your family:

Youth Information

Information For Youth

Additional Information for the Community


A big way you can help homeless students is to know about the issues they face. Look below for resources that will help you to learn more about homeless education. Check back for new articles or videos, and don’t forget to share this information with a friend!



Ways to Help

Wish List

Currently we have a great need for the following items:

  • Food and Gas Gift cards
  • Crockpots and/or Electric Skillets
  • Full Size bottles of Shampoo, Conditioner or 2 in 1 Shampoo/Conditioner

If you have any items to contribute to help fulfill our wish list, please contact the HEARTH Project at 863-457-4709.

Hearth School Supply List

Project Fill-A-Bag


If you are interested in tutoring, mentoring or volunteering with our program, or in another way at a PCPS school, please visit polkschoolsfl.com/getinvolved.

Make a Donation

Giving a monetary donation is one of the best ways to help the students in our program. With these donations, we are able to purchase grocery gift cards, bus passes, gas cards, and hygiene kits, and provide assistance that will allow a kindergartener to attend a field trip with her friends or purchase a senior’s cap and gown for graduation.

If you would like to make a monetary donation, please send checks payable to the Polk Education Foundation with “HEARTH Project” noted. Donations can be mailed to the HEARTH Project at P.O. Box 391, Bartow, FL 33831.

You can also donate online through the PEF website by going to:

Polk Education Foundation Website

Click on the icon “Donate Money” and type “HEARTH” in the “Specific Program” information box. All monetary donations will generate a thank-you letter with the Foundation’s 501(c)(3) determination for tax purposes.

Your donation helps make the difference in our students’ lives. This additional support we provide would not be possible without your generosity. Thank you for helping our students have what they need to be successful in school!

Contact Information:
1915 South Floral Avenue
Bartow, FL 33830

$25 buys two weeks worth of bus passes or 2.5 hours of a van driver’s time to support school attendance and parental involvement. Your help makes it possible for a student to attend school while waiting for a bus route to be established or a parent to attend a teacher conference.

$25 buys a backpack full of school supplies. Thanks to your gift he will be prepared to learn at school!

$25 is the average amount of a grocery gift card that we give to families. Your generosity allows Mom to go to the grocery store and buy food for dinner.


Is your business or organization interested in helping homeless students in Polk County? If so, consider becoming a Community Partner with our program!

The Polk County Public Schools HEARTH Project welcomes businesses to support a local school or our program. Any support that we receive to help fulfill the needs of our homeless students is greatly appre-ciated by our program as well as by the families that we serve. You can be a Community Partner by giving a monetary donation, food and gas gift cards, school supplies, or hygiene packs, or by organizing an event or drive to benefit our students. Below is a list of Community Partners who have generously donated to our program. To learn more about how you can partner with us, please contact the PCPS HEARTH Project office at 863-457-4709 or e-mail homeless liaison Ben Ruch at [email protected].

Our Community Partners:

Alpha Delta Kappa Gamma
Bartow Board of Realtors
Bartow Chamber of Commerce
Bartow Kiwanis Club
Beymer Memorial United Methodist Church
FDLRS Sunshine Committee
First Baptist Church at the Mall
First Baptist Church of Frostproof
Floral Lakes Bingo
Schalamar Creek Gift Shop

FUMC Children’s Clothes Closet
Hope Presbyterian Church
Kiwanis Club of Greater Haines City
Lake Alfred Lions Foundation
Leadership Lakeland Alumni Association
Polk County Tax Collector’s Office
Polk Education Foundation
Publix Super Markets Charities, Inc.
Walt Disney World
Patel Green and Associates
Lakeland South Rotary Club

Thank You To Our Sponsors

The HEARTH Project would like to thank all of its community partners for their continuous support!

Central Florida Health Care

Phone: 863-455-8052

Central Florida Health Care