SchoolHouse Connection is very pleased to announce that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will include a question on homelessness in its 2021 standard high school questionnaire for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). This will make the YRBS the largest source of data on the extent of homelessness among high school students, and the serious health risk factors youth experiencing homelessness face.

The YRBS was first developed by the CDC in 1990 to assess the health risk behaviors of youth in the United States. Since 2017, the YRBS optional question list has included two questions pertaining to homelessness. One question mirrors the McKinney-Vento Act’s education definition of homelessness, and allows students to self-identify as experiencing homelessness. 27 states included this question in their 2019 YRBS. In 2021, all state YRBS surveys will include this question, unless a state opts out.

The second question is designed to identify unaccompanied homeless youth, in particular. This question will remain on the optional questionnaire. 21 states included this question in their 2019 YRBS. SchoolHouse Connection will continue our advocacy to increase the number of states and localities asking this question.

SchoolHouse Connection’s analyses of YRBS data have uncovered profound issues of inequity, physical danger, and mental health challenges for high school students experiencing homelessness. For example, we found that:

  • Black and Hispanic high school students are disproportionately likely to experience homelessness, as are students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning. (We did not have sufficient data to analyze homelessness among transgender students, although other research indicates disproportionality.)
  • 9% of high school students surveyed experienced homelessness at some point during the 2016-2017 school year. In comparison, public schools identified 2.7% of their students as homeless in the same year.
  • Students living in different homeless situations (staying temporarily with others, in shelters, motels, or outside) had comparable vulnerability to violence, suicide, substance abuse, hunger, bullying, and lack of sleep.
  • Students experiencing homelessness are 7.2 times more likely to attempt suicide, 4.1 times more likely to be raped, and 5.9 times more likely to be victims of physical dating violence than their housed peers.

More information about our findings, tangible action steps schools can take to promote safety, health, and equity for students experiencing homelessness, and advice directly from SchoolHouse Connection scholars, are available on our YRBS website. We expect to publish new and updated analyses with data from the 2019 YRBS survey later this year.

Researchers, educators, and advocates have used YRBS data to guide our work, expose severely disproportionate health risks of high school students experiencing homelessness, and advocate for better policies and practices. The Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness also has developed interactive YRBS data tools. While we will continue analyzing and publishing these data, the CDC also will analyze homelessness data in 2021, now that the homelessness question is part of the standard questionnaire. The CDC analyses will be widely available on the CDC’s YRBS website after the survey is completed and all results are available for analysis. We are very grateful to our partners at the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health for their collaboration in making homelessness questions part of the optional questionnaire in 2017 and 2019, and now in the transition to the standard questionnaire for 2021. If you would like to be part of SHC’s National Consortium on Homelessness and the YRBS, contact Patricia Julianelle.

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