Back in November of 2005, Diane Nilan had what she now concedes may have struck some people as a “crazy notion.” She’d been working as advocate for homeless families in Illinois, getting frustrated by the glacial pace of political and bureaucratic change, when she decided to sell her town house, buy a Gulfstream motor home, and set out on the road to talk to homeless families living around the country. She drove to Pensacola, Fla., and then to Lafayette, La., and then to a tiny town in Texas, where she met a little boy who had been abandoned by his mother. She spoke with homeless children and their families at campsites and motels and shelters, and filmed them in an attempt to share what she learned.
Since then, she's become one of the country's most prominent experts on family homelessness, logging 148,000 miles and talking to families in about 30 states. So she wasn't entirely surprised when she heard the latest bleak statistic: 1 million homeless students in America, according to a report released by the Department of Education this week. Talking to the families of such students, she said, she hears "the same story time after time. Lost their job, had some medical problems, things fell apart, boom, boom, boom. Now they're living in shelters or motels."