Background: Since 2015, the Centers for Disease Control has included two questions about homelessness on their optional questionnaire for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).  As optional questions, states and localities can choose to include them in their YRBS surveys. One of these questions allows students to self-identify (anonymously) as experiencing homelessness under the definition of homelessness that applies to all public schools under the McKinney-Vento Act (see below for the CDC’s homelessness question). 

24 states and 10 localities included this question in their 2017 YRBS. This represented an unusually high uptake of an optional question.  In 2019, 27 states and 7 localities included the question.

On April 1, the CDC will send a ballot to all State Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) Coordinators, allowing them to vote on questions to add to the standard high school questionnaire. The homelessness question is on the ballot. If the homelessness question is placed on the standard questionnaire, all states and localities that administer the YRBS will use the question, unless they opt out. This would provide the largest, national dataset on self-identified student homelessness, helping to:

  • reset funding decisions;
  • provide a realistic, national picture of student homelessness; and
  • give all states a target for homelessness identification efforts.


We are urging McKinney-Vento State Coordinators, liaisons, and homeless advocates to contact their YRBS State Coordinator and urge them to vote to add the homelessness question to the 2021 standard high school questionnaire.

  • Contact information for your YRBS State Coordinator is available in this Excel spreadsheet.
  • A sample argument for why inclusion of the question is so important is available here. Please feel free to circulate this request across your networks.

States and localities that have included the homelessness question in their YRBS have found two important uses for the data: a) to improve the identification of students experiencing homelessness; and b) to uncover the health risks associated with homelessness and design interventions to mitigate those risks. You can read some of the research and publications about the prevalence and risks of student homelessness on SchoolHouse Connection’s YRBS webpage.  

Please contact your YRBS State Coordinator by April 1 to ask them to vote for the “where did you usually sleep” question for inclusion in the 2021 standard high school questionnaire. Thank you for your advocacy!

CDC’s Homelessness Question

The CDC’s question reads:

During the past 30 days, where did you usually sleep?

A. In my parent’s or guardian’s home
B. In the home of a friend, family member, or other person because I had to leave my home or my parent or guardian cannot afford housing
C. In a shelter or emergency housing
D. In a motel or hotel
E In a car, park, campground, or other public place
F.I do not have a usual place to sleep
G. Somewhere else

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