Esther Cajuste, JD
The barriers to education of children experiencing homelessness are well-documented, including lack of adequate transportation to the school of origin, residency requirements, loss of records, and lack of access to healthcare. To help address these barriers, in April 2010, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) introduced the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act— also known as the McKinney-Vento Act. The HEARTH Act makes several changes to HUD’s programs including new definitions of homelessness and a greater emphasis on prevention and provision of education services to children. It specifically requires that service providers designate an education coordinator to address the needs of homeless children.
Project Home’s Rowan Homes, which provides permanent supportive housing for as many as 100 children, wasEsther’s pilot site. There, she identified resources and processes to help homeless family housing programs meet the new federal requirements. Her project involved identifying k-12 educational supports and opportunities available to homeless families from cradle-to-college-to-career. She worked in close collaboration with the Family Service Provider Network, a consortium of 25 providers of services to the homeless, and the City-sponsored Children’s Working Group, a city-wide task force addressing the needs of homeless children. Her project will culminate in a resource book that will support homeless service providers in implementing the new regulations and identify appropriate educational pathways for homeless children.
A 2011 graduate of the American University Washington College of Law, Esther learned first-hand about the education barriers of vulnerable families working as a Court Appointed Special Advocate assisting foster care clients in transitioning to permanent homes. She secured tutors and assisted her clients with school transfers and the college admissions process. As a Teaching Fellow with the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Program, she taught Constitutional Law to DC high school students, an experience she describes as transformative. Esther has also been a research assistant for law professors, held internships with the Washington Bar Association and the New York District Attorney’s Office, and served as Student Attorney with American University’s Criminal Justice Defense Clinic.