Q: I’m working with a youth who has been in and out of shelters and couch surfing. I understand from helping him complete his FAFSA that as a homeless youth, he qualifies as an independent student. What will he need to provide to the school to verify this?
A: Other than a financial aid administrator, there are three authorized authorities that can verify that he “was determined at any time since July 1, 2017 [year prior to the award year], to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.” These authorities are:
- a school district homeless liaison
- the director (or designee) of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
- the director (or designee) of a runaway or homeless youth (RHY) basic center or transitional living program
These three authorities can submit a homeless youth determination letter on behalf of the student. (Here is a letter template from National Association for the Education of Homeless Children & Youth & a letter template from SchoolHouse Connection).
If he is a current high school student, he should ask for a letter from the school district homeless liaison. Or, if he is currently a resident in a RHY-funded shelter or transitional living program or HUD-funded shelter or transitional housing program, he should ask the director (or someone the director designates) to provide the letter.
Additionally, these authorities are now permitted to write determination letters for homeless youth for subsequent years as long as they have the necessary information to write such letters. This means if he is no longer in high school but still has relationship with the homeless liaison from his former high school, or was previously a resident in a RHY- or HUD-funded shelter or transitional living/housing program, he should visit the school or program to request a letter. Note that school district homeless liaisons can only write letters for youth up through age 23.
If he is not able to get a letter from any of the three aforementioned authorities, then he needs to visit the financial aid office at his college so that the financial aid administrator (FAA) can make the determination. The FAA may make the determination based on help from third parties, or, if there is no written documentation available from third parties, a documented interview with the student suffices.
Citation: U.S. Department of Education. 2018-19 Federal Student Aid Handbook, Application & Verification Guide. https://ifap.ed.gov/fsahandbook/attachments/1819FSAHbkAVG.pdf