HEARTH Project

Homeless Education Advocates Restoring The Hope

The HEARTH Project and Polk County Public Schools are dedicated to assisting homeless and in-transition families and children by eliminating barriers to school enrollment, attendance, stability, and overall academic success. We work to ensure that children experiencing homelessness have the same opportunities for educational success as housed students in Polk County.

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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
(B) 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).

For additional informationWho is Homeless?

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

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

Additional Information for the Community


Ways to Help

Wish List

Currently we have a great need for the following items:

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


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.

Other Ways You Can Help

How Your Contribution Makes a Difference

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.

Community Guide

This community guide is meant for anyone and everyone who is interested in learning about our program, the issues facing homeless students and how they can help. Click on the link below to access the contents of our community guide.

Thank You to Our Sponsors:

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