Child and youth homelessness is widespread and devastating – but hidden. Education can help break the cycle.
How many children and youth experience homelessness?
Public schools identified nearly 1.1 million children and youth experiencing homelessness in the 2020-2021 school year. Another 1.4 million young children under age six (data collected in 2017-18) – infants, toddlers, and preschoolers – are estimated to experience homelessness. In addition to children who experience homelessness with their parents, at least one in thirty adolescents ages 13-17, and nearly one in ten young adults 18-24, are estimated to experience homelessness on their own. These numbers are now likely much higher as a result of the pandemic and related economic and family stress.
Number of children and youth experiencing homelessness in the 2020-2021 school year.
Number of young children under age six estimated to experience homelessness.
At least one in thirty adolescents ages 13-17 experience homelessness with their parents.
Nearly one in ten young adults 18-24, are estimated to experience homelessness on their own.
Hidden in Plain Sight
These numbers may surprise you, because you don’t see children, youth, and families in the same way that you see adults who experience homelessness. Most children and youth experiencing homelessness are not visible in shelters or on the streets, but rather moving from place to place: couches, basements, motels, cars, and wherever they can find temporary refuge.
Homelessness is a traumatic experience for children and youth. The devastating impact of homelessness begins early in life, with harm to health and development prenatally, in infancy, in early childhood, and in school-age years. Students experiencing homelessness are more likely to drop out of high school, and have high school graduation rates that are well below graduation rates of students who are poor, but who have stable homes. Tragically, not getting a high school degree leads back to a cycle of homelessness: lack of a high school degree or GED is the singlest greatest risk factor for experiencing homelessness as a young adult. Youth experiencing homelessness who do persist to graduate from high school face significant barriers to achieving higher education, which is the surest path to economic independence.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Education can provide each child and youth a pathway to success, and out of homelessness — permanently.
Schools and early childhood programs provide children and youth experiencing homelessness with the education and skills to cope, learn, earn, and succeed in the long-term.
Schools and early childhood programs are much more than classrooms for children and youth experiencing homelessness – they provide safety, stability, and access to food, health and mental health services, and caring, supportive adults.
Schools and early childhood programs exist in all communities, and see children and youth every day. This means they are uniquely able to identify and respond to children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness.
Education Changed the Lives of Mirka, Jamie, and Gladys.
“I knew that education was the only way out. I wanted to be something more than what my circumstances predicted I would be.”
How does SchoolHouse Connection tackle this crisis?
Responsive and Effective Policy Advocacy
At SchoolHouse Connection, we believe change must be rooted in the experiences of local communities. We listen and learn, then advocate and implement. This approach has contributed to big wins at the state and federal level, from removing barriers to early care and education to increasing resources for services and support.
Practical Assistance to Schools and Communities
We know that laws and policies that aren’t implemented are meaningless for the children and youth who desperately need them. That’s why we put as much effort into practice as we do policy. Through tools, training, and convening, we help schools and communities identify and support children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness.
We believe that young people are the experts on their experiences, needs and strengths. We involve youth in all areas of our work, providing opportunities for advocacy and public education. We also support young people directly to transition from high school through college and into the workforce through our Youth Leadership and Scholarship program.
Here are two ways you can help.
Together, we can ensure that every child and youth experiencing homelessness has access to the education and support they need to end their homelessness and achieve their dreams.
Everyone has a role to play when it comes to ensuring all children and youth can access their right to an education – and the keys to a better life. Not sure where you fit in? Start here: