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America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2018

Homelessness

Research has shown that children experiencing homelessness face a range of challenges related to their health, emotional well-being, safety, and development. Experiences of homelessness in early childhood are associated with adverse outcomes, such as hunger,14 socio-emotional and other developmental delays,15 and poor academic achievement.16 Unstable housing situations can disrupt the education of children in several ways, including by increasing truancy and transfer rates among public schools.17

There are different ways to define homelessness. The one used here is limited to those children who were enrolled in public schools and defines homeless children as those who experienced any of the following at any point during the school year: sleeping in unsheltered places (e.g., living in cars, parks, campgrounds, or abandoned buildings) or in sheltered settings that are not fixed and adequate as well as children who rely on irregular, temporary accommodations such as staying in a motel or doubling up ("couch surfing") with friends or family.18 This definition allows for a more complete picture of children's needs for shelter and a regular place to call home. Information is provided on the percentage of students who are homeless across different school districts and the housing situations for these students.

Other definitions of homelessness focus on individuals or families sleeping in unsheltered places or in a publicly or privately operated shelter or transitional housing and refer to counts of the homeless on a given day in January. These measures provide information on child homelessness within family groups including an adult as well as among unaccompanied homeless youth and are used to plan for services for the homeless.19, 20, 21, 22 Considering the shelter status of homeless children in combination with their family status can shed light on differences in the type of risk they face. Information on this alternative measure of homelessness is provided in table 5.

Figure 4: Percentage of public school students who were identified as homeless by school district locale, school year 2015–16
Percentage of public school students who were identified as homeless by school district locale, school year 2015–16

NOTE: Homeless students are defined as children or youth who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, including those in unsheltered situations, shelters or other temporary housing, hotels or motels, or doubled-up or sharing housing. For more information, see "C118 - Homeless Students Enrolled" at https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/edfacts/sy-15-16-nonxml.html.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, EDFacts Data Warehouse (internal U.S. Department of Education source); and Common Core of Data.

  • In the 2015–16 school year, 1.4 million students, or about 3 percent of students in U.S. public elementary and secondary schools, were reported as homeless children or youth.
  • The largest number of public school students that were reported as homeless lived in city school districts (620,000), followed by suburban districts (430,000), rural districts (160,000), and town districts (140,000).
  • Due to differences in population size in these areas, the percentage of public school students reported as homeless followed a slightly different pattern. It was highest in city school districts (4.0 percent), followed by town districts (2.7 percent), rural districts (2.5 percent), and suburban districts (2.1 percent).

Figure 5: Percentage distribution of public school students who were identified as homeless, by primary nighttime residence, school year 2015–16
Percentage distribution of public school students who were identified as homeless, by primary nighttime residence, school year 2015–16

NOTE: Homeless students are defined as children or youth who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, including those in unsheltered situations, shelters or other temporary housing, hotels or motels, or doubled-up or sharing housing. For more information, see "C118 – Homeless Students Enrolled" at https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/edfacts/sy-15-16-nonxml.html. Detail does not sum to total due to rounding as well as missing data on primary nighttime residence.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, EDFacts Data Warehouse (internal U.S. Department of Education source); and Common Core of Data.

  • In 2015–16, the majority of homeless students (73 percent or 990,000 students) reported that they were doubled up with another family due to a loss of housing, economic hardship, or other reasons (such as domestic violence).
  • Fifteen percent of homeless students (210,000) in 2015–16 were housed in shelters or transitional housing, or were awaiting foster care placement. Six percent (85,000 students) resided in hotels or motels and 3 percent (45,000 students) were unsheltered.

table icon BRIEF4 HTML Table,  BRIEF5 HTML Table

14 Cutts, D. B., Pheley, A. M., & Geppert, J. S. (1998). Hunger in midwestern inner-city young children. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 152(5), 489–493.

15 Haskett, M. E., Armstrong, J., & Tisdale, J. (2015). Developmental status and social-emotional functioning of young children experiencing homelessness. Early Childhood Education Journal, 44(2), 119–125.

16 Perlman, S. M., & Fantuzzo, J. W. (2010). Timing and impact of homelessness and maltreatment on school readiness. Children and Youth Services Review, 32, 874–883.

17 Swick, K. J. (2005). Helping homeless families overcome barriers to successful functioning. Early Childhood Education Journal, 33(3), 195–200. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10643-005-0044-0.

18 More information on the characteristics of homeless students enrolled in public schools can be found here: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_tgh.asp.

19 Both definitions of homelessness are based on the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, as amended by the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2009 and the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. The narrow definition of homelessness for purposes of providing homeless services is based on literal homelessness or imminent risk of homelessness and lack of resources to obtain other permanent housing (Section 103 of Subtitle I). The broader definition of homelessness for purposes of meeting educational needs includes children who live in motels, hotels, temporary trailers, or camping grounds, as well as children who are sharing the housing of other persons due to a loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason (Section 725 of Subtitle VII-B).

20 Individuals who are doubling up or sharing housing are NOT considered homeless by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and individuals or families staying in a motel are not considered homeless if they, rather than a homeless service organization, are paying for it.

21 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Community Planning and Development. (2016). Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress: Part 2—Estimates of Homelessness in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/hdx/guides/ahar/#reports.

22 Unaccompanied homeless youth are minor children under age 18 or young adults under age 24 who do not live with an adult over age 25.