Child and Youth Homelessness in the United States: Data Profiles

Homelessness is a traumatic experience with potential long-term consequences. Yet child and youth homelessness is largely hidden from sight – including from the practitioners and policymakers who are best positioned to help. 

SchoolHouse Connection and Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan have created searchable data profiles to raise awareness of the scale and impact of homelessness on children and youth, and to underscore the need for action to meet their needs.

These profiles make available – for the first time – child and youth homelessness data at the county and Congressional levels. The profiles also include data at the national, state, and school district levels. We urge educators, service providers, advocates, and elected officials to explore the profiles, educate themselves on the issues, and take action to prevent and solve child and youth homelessness.

To explore the data profiles, click on the tabs at the top of this page.

For frequently asked questions, click here

Archived Webinar: Data to Action: How to Use New Searchable Data Profiles to Improve Practice and Policy for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessnessn

Date Recorded: March 14, 2023

Click Here to Download the Powerpoint

SchoolHouse Connection and Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan have created searchable data profiles to raise awareness of the scale and impact of homelessness on children and youth, and to underscore the need for action to meet their needs. These profiles make available – for the first time – child and youth homelessness data at the county and Congressional levels. The profiles also include data at the national, state, and school district levels. 

This webinar will demonstrate how data these profiles can be used to:

  • Educate community members, educators, and policymakers about the prevalence and the impact of child and youth homelessness, from early childhood through postsecondary education
  • Explore whether local school districts may be under-identifying children and youth experiencing homelessness
  • Understand patterns of federal funding and its impact on identification

Questions and Answers on the Child and Youth Homelessness Data Profiles

What is Homelessness?

The data in the profiles are based on the federal education definition of homelessness in the McKinney-Vento Act. All public educational agencies early childhood, K12, and higher education are required to use this definition of homelessness. Under this definition, homelessness includes staying with others temporarily due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason, as well as staying in shelters, motels, and unsheltered situations. Lack of shelter, fear of having children removed from parental custody, and restrictive eligibility criteria for housing programs mean that most families and youth experiencing homelessness stay in places that are not easily identified. They also move frequently and unpredictably between unstable and often unsafe settings. Early childhood programs and public schools are required to identify children and youth experiencing homelessness, no matter where they are staying, or how often they move.

Why Pay Attention to Child and Youth Homelessness?

Homelessness negatively impacts children and youth’s development, health, and education impacts that are distinct from and worse than the effects of poverty more generally. From low birth weight to developmental delays, from chronic absence to lower high school graduation and college enrollment rates, homelessness is a unique and pernicious risk factor. Education — from early childhood through postsecondary education — is among the most powerful antidotes to homelessness in the long-term, and is a source of immediate support and connection to housing and services, in the short term. Youth without a high school diploma are 4.5 times more likely to experience homelessness later in life, making the lack of a high school diploma/GED the single greatest risk factor for experiencing homelessness as a young adult. 

Where Do These Data Come From?

All of the PreK-12 data in the profiles is reported to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) by state education agencies, and is publicly available on EdDataExpress.Ed.Gov. Federal financial aid data, state allocations of annual homeless education funding (McKinney-Vento), and state allocations of COVID-relief (American Rescue Plan – Homeless Children and Youth, or ARP-HCY) funding also are available on ED data. Head Start data was reported to the Office of Head Start by Head Start and Early Head Start programs. The number of school districts receiving one-time COVID-relief funding (ARP-HCY) for students experiencing homelessness was obtained through requests to state homeless education coordinators.

What’s the Impact of COVID-19 on this Data?
Virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic created significant challenges in identifying children and youth experiencing homelessness and in staying in touch with families and youth. Public schools reported 1,099,221 children and youth, preK-12 in the 2020-21 school year – a 21% drop from the pre-pandemic (school year 18-19) count.  A survey of school district liaisons in fall 2020 attributed declines in the number of enrolled students experiencing homelessness to the inability to identify and communicate with families and youth during virtual learning – not to reduced rates of homelessness.
When Will Data from the 2021-2022 School Year Be Available? Will These Profiles Be Updated to Show Multi-Year Trends?
The U.S. Department of Education typically publishes local educational agency (LEA) data on homelessness on EdDataExpress.Ed.Gov in June or July. This means profiles would be updated in fall of 2023.
How is This Data Different from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Data?
Data from HUD only includes the number of people who are in shelter or transitional housing, or who are identified by volunteers during street counts (Point-in-Time counts). Most families and youth who are homeless do not stay in shelters, transitional housing, or on the streets. In fact, less than 15% of children and youth experiencing homelessness enrolled by public schools are in these situations when they are first identified as homeless. Shelters and transitional housing are often full, unable to serve families as a unit, closed to unaccompanied minor youth, or simply non-existent in too many communities.  When families and youth are not able to access shelter, they are much less likely to be included in HUD’s counts. Families experiencing homelessness also are less likely than single adults to stay on the streets and other outdoor locations where they might be included in Point-in-Time counts, often because they are afraid that their children will be removed from their custody. Unaccompanied youth also avoid living on the streets out of fears of interactions with authorities and exploitation by older adults. As a result of these circumstances, most children and youth experiencing homelessness stay in motels or temporarily with other people due to lack of alternatives; many move fluidly between these situations, which are often dangerous and highly insecure. This invisible and unstable homelessness is associated with educational and health harms that are comparable to HUD-defined homelessness, but is not included in HUD’s data.
How Can I Tell If Schools in My Area are Underidentifiying Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness?
While there is no one metric that can demonstrate for certain if students experiencing homelessness are being underidentified, one indicator of concern is when school districts have higher rates of child poverty, but lower rates of homelessness, compared to surrounding school districts. To explore this for your area, simply scroll over the map at the top of the school district, county, or Congressional district pages. These maps display color-coded school districts that indicate the percent of children ages 5-17 living in poverty (the darker the color purple, the higher the rate of poverty in that school district). Compare the percent of children living in poverty and the percent of children identified as homeless in each school district to see potential indicators of underidentification. Another indicator that is often a sign of underidentification is when a school district does not report any children and youth experiencing homelessness.
Is There Data on Infants and Toddlers Experiencing Homelessness?
Data on infants and toddlers experiencing homelessness is limited. SchoolHouse Connection and Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan recently published a report estimating the prevalence of homelessness among infants and toddlers in twenty states. We hope to have these estimates for all 50 states in the future. In addition, in the 2020-2021 school year, school districts receiving dedicated homeless education funding (McKinney-Vento) reported serving 13,788 children ages birth through age two, and 34,906 children ages 3-5 (not including kindergarten).
Is There Data on Youth Between 18 and 25 Years of Age Experiencing Homelessness?
Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago has published national estimates on unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness between the ages of 13-17, and 18-25 years old.
Is There Data on College Students Experiencing Homelessness?
The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice conducted a national student basic needs survey with responses from nearly 200,000 students in fall of 2020 and found that 14 percent were experiencing homelessness. Based on a total enrollment of about 16 million students (15.9 million according to NCES fall 2020, 16.2 million according to Clearinghouse spring 2022) that would be more than 2 million college students experiencing homelessness.
What Are the Obligations of Early Childhood Programs, Public Schools, and Institutions of Higher Education Related to Homelessness?
Federal law requires public schools and federally-funded early childhood programs to identify children and youth experiencing homelessness and remove barriers to their enrollment and success. Federal financial aid administrators have specific requirements for making determinations of unaccompanied homeless youth status for the purpose of financial aid, and college access programs also have requirements related to homelessness. Visit our early childhood page, our PreK-12 page, and our higher education page to learn more.
What Are Some Promising Practices To Support The Education Of Children And Youth Experiencing Homelessness?

Examples of creative programming by state and local educational agencies may be found here, and training and awareness resources for educators may be found here. Exemplary state policies may be found here.

How Do I Find My State or School District Homeless Education Coordinator?

You can find a directory of state and local homeless education coordinators here. Please note that this contact information may change frequently due to staff turnover. If you have problems finding the right school district homeless liaison, please contact your state homeless education coordinator.

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