New CDC Data Show Higher Health Risks for High School Students Experiencing Homelessness
On April 28th, 2023, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released data from the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which monitors health-related behaviors among students in grades 9–12 enrolled in U.S. public and private schools.
Question on Homelessness Included for the First Time on Standard Questionnaire
For the first time, the CDC–in response to advocacy coordinated by SchoolHouse Connection– made homelessness questions part of the 2021 standard high school questionnaire for all states. This question mirrors the McKinney-Vento Act’s education definition of homelessness, and includes youth staying with others because they had to leave their home or their parents or guardians could not afford housing, as well as those in shelters, hotels/motels, and unsheltered situations.
Homeless Students at Much Higher Risk of Violence and Attempted Suicide
Compared with students who were stably housed, students experiencing homelessness were more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, substance use, and suicide ideation and attempts, and to experience violence. Here’s a summary of the major findings:
- During 2021, at least 2.7% of U.S. high school students experienced homelessness (referred to as “unstable housing” in the CDC report).
- High school students experiencing homelessness are at much higher risk of experiencing violence.
- High school students experiencing homelessness face much higher risk of suicide.
- Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Black youths were more likely to experience homelessness.
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning or other youths were more likely to experience homelessness compared with their heterosexual peers.
These findings highlight the urgent need to proactively identify students experiencing homelessness; ensure their access and stability in school as required by federal law; and closely examine and revise school-based health and mental health efforts to ensure that students experiencing homelessness are prioritized and can access support.