Only one in four households whose income qualifies them for federal housing assistance can access it. That challenge is even greater for undocumented or mixed-status immigrant families, who may be ineligible for, or fear accessing, government subsidies, resulting in housing instability.

In our new brief, we provide a range of resources for education professionals to support undocumented and mixed-status families in their school districts who face housing challenges. The brief is designed to increase community awareness about these challenges and encourage intentional dialogue about potential solutions.

Made possible by support from the Ballmer Foundation, the report reflects our work in partnership with StriveTogether to support housing and education partners seeking to advance upward mobility for children and families. In 2020, Enterprise launched a technical assistance program to support a variety of these cross-sector partnerships around the country. Dalton, Georgia, is one of the communities where Enterprise supports a housing and education partnership. The partnership includes Believe Greater Dalton, Dalton Public Schools, Whitfield County Schools, United Way, Dalton Housing Authority, the Dalton-Whitfield CDC, and Junior Achievement of Georgia.

We sat down with Jackie Taylor, homeless education liaison for Dalton Public Schools, to talk about the housing and education partnership, unique housing challenges facing undocumented and mixed-status families, and some of the strategies to overcome those barriers.  

Woman and child stand on a covered patio
Dalton is a unique place. It’s a small town in rural North Georgia with a lot of open-minded people who realize it takes all of us to embrace our families. Unfortunately, we have a lot of families living in poverty. We want to work together to help.

What is your role? What brought you to this work and why have you elected to be a part of the housing and education partnership?

I am a social worker by degree and have been a school social worker for more than 20 years. I was elected the homeless education liaison early on and have written the McKinney-Vento grant every year since. So, housing and education is what I do.

Integrating housing and education is not a hard sell. People get it. They get that children won’t be able to learn as well if they’re not in stable housing. So, I do think Dalton is a good place to integrate housing and education-centered strategies. The beauty of it being a small town is that all the players really know each other. We do want to work together and there is a lot of collaboration.

How would you describe the housing challenges that undocumented and mixed-status families in your schools  experience?

Right now, the housing challenges for all families are huge, with what little income-based housing we have and just one subsidized apartment complex. Applications and social services that require a Social Security number are also barriers for this population. Our undocumented families really struggle because they’re staying wherever they can find a place available to them and that they can afford. Additionally, a lot of my undocumented families can’t show income. We know they have income, but they can’t show it and it’s an added challenge when searching for housing.

Families lose their voice a lot of times, because they don’t feel like they can complain, and the living conditions become really problematic. And that’s for families fortunate enough to find something and be able to get in. 

Most of my undocumented families end up doubling and tripling up. When you ask if that is temporary, the answer is no – and it’s due to economic hardship.

What are different strategies or solutions that your housing and education partnership has created to support undocumented and mixed-status families?

We did some work with our food banks and our Salvation Army, many years ago. Social service agencies tend to hand you a packet you’re supposed to fill out, including name, date of birth, and Social Security number. We have, over the years, through relationships and through the partnerships, been able to either convince agencies to remove the Social Security number question, because it does scare people, or we have been able to convince people to use a Unique Student Identifier. These numbers are given to every student, and they have the same number of digits as a Social Security number.

Portrait photo of a woman smiling with brown shoulder-length hair, wearing a black blouse. There is a green foliage in the background.
"We’re having important conversations and making  connections to support our families," says Jackie Taylor.

We have had different agencies agree to use those. I can write a letter that says, ‘I’m working with this family, here are their tracking numbers.’ And I can hand that to the parent and say, ‘Take this with you and they will not ask you for your Social Security cards,’ and that’s been huge.

Having school district employees who are social workers and trained to be sensitive to families’ needs and can speak multiple languages is also critical. We all speak Spanish. It’s important to have someone who can speak to families in their language, be sensitive to their situation, and just have those conversations. People trust the school, so I do think that that’s where the school being involved in these conversations in the community is helpful for our students and their families.

What do you hope to come out of the housing and education partnership?

We have a few big ideas in Dalton. I have worked with the Dalton-Whitfield CDC now for quite some time, and one of their current ideas is to build units that incorporate an emergency shelter component. There might be transitional housing included, and then maybe longer-term transitional housing. But what we really need is more places for people to live across the board with a focus on housing for people who are living in poverty.

We’re having these important conversations and making these connections to support our families. And a large part of that absolutely comes from someone from the CDC sitting in a meeting next to someone from Believe Greater Dalton. Everybody here knows somebody.

On a very small scale, we have gotten some housing that is designated for people in transition, and they do call me first when the housing becomes available, which is amazing. So, I hope to see more of these relationships where I am the first call when housing opportunities open.

What value does our new brief provide to community leaders like you?

For families, the value is just knowing people are working on this. People are thinking about this. We are looking for solutions. I also think there’s a comfort in normalizing things for people and knowing this is not just you. This is something that’s going on throughout the country for lots of people from lots of places. Knowing that a tool exists to further this conversation is great.

For more information, read our brief, Vital Links: How Schools Can Support Housing Assistance for Undocumented and Mixed-Status Families. Also see our toolkit for housing and education partnerships, Advancing Mobility from Poverty.