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Homeless Student Count Doubles Pre-Recession Levels, Advocates Call for Action
Ed Walz (Former Staff)Education Housing & Homelessness Poverty & Family Economics
Washington – U.S. Department of Education data shows the number of homeless children and youth attending America’s public schools has risen to a record-breaking 1,360,747. That number, for the 2013-2014 school year, is up 8 percent from the prior school year and double the 679,724 homeless children and youth attending public schools during the 2006-2007 school year. Despite the dramatic increase in child and youth homelessness since the economic recession, the data likely represents an undercount, as Education Department data does not include homeless infants and toddlers, young children who are not enrolled in public preschool programs, homeless children and youth who were not identified by school officials, and homeless children and youth who are no longer attending public schools.
Less than 20 percent of homeless students are clearly eligible for homeless housing assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The housing agency only considers people staying in shelters or on the streets to be eligible for homeless assistance; however, most homeless children and youth stay temporarily in motels or stay a night here and there at other people’s homes. As a result, more than 1.1 million homeless students are eligible for educational assistance through local schools, but not HUD homeless services including shelter, short-term housing, and assistance with obtaining permanent housing.
The bipartisan Homeless Children and Youth Act (S. 256 in the Senate and H.R. 576 in the House of Representatives) would amend the HUD definition of homelessness so that all homeless children and youth identified by public schools are eligible for assistance, regardless of where they happen to be staying. The Senate bill was introduced in January, and the House bill in April, but the committees of jurisdiction have yet to act on them.
Homeless children and youth face education, health, and safety consequences:
- Children experiencing homelessness are more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities;
- Homeless students transfer schools more often, and are more likely to miss school, and have lower standardized test scores;
- Homelessness is the highest risk factor in determining if a student leaves school before graduation; homeless students are 87 percent more likely than their peers to leave school
School districts reported serving over 90,000 unaccompanied homeless youth. Studies have found that:
- 40-60 percent of unaccompanied homeless youth were abused physically in their homes, 20-40 percent were abused sexually;
- Over two-thirds of unaccompanied homeless youth report that at least one of their parents abuses drugs or alcohol, and;
- Unaccompanied homeless youth are more likely to fall victim to sexual exploitation, including human trafficking
In response to the data, leading advocates for homeless children released the following statements:
“HUD is still living in a pre-recession world, but the face of homelessness in America has changed,” said Bruce Lesley, President of the First Focus Campaign for Children. “If HUD won’t act, Congress must force them, by passing the bipartisan Homeless Children and Youth Act before adjourning this year.”
“The data released today confirm what our members see every day – increasing numbers of children and youth struggling to survive without a home,” said Barbara Duffield, Director of Policy and Programs for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. “Without access to HUD homeless assistance, schools struggle to stabilize the education and the lives of homeless children and youth. The Homeless Children and Youth Act would eliminate the red tape that prevents local agencies from collaborating to create better futures for these vulnerable students.”
“These trends are heart-breaking yet entirely predictable, given the federal government’s chronic absenteeism in community discussions about affordable housing for low-income families,” said Ruth White, Executive Director, National Center for Housing and Child Welfare. “For over a decade Congress has ignored its responsibility to fill yawning gaps in housing options for low income families – and left America’s public schools to deal with the consequences. HUD simply must turn its attention and funding to robust affordable housing programs for families and relieve this burden on America’s schools – and most of all, the children.”
The First Focus Campaign for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization affiliated with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. The Campaign for Children advocates directly for legislative change in Congress to ensure children and families are the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit campaignforchildren.org.
NAEHCY is a national grassroots membership association dedicated to ensuring the school enrollment, attendance, and overall success for children and youth whose lives have been disrupted by the lack of safe, permanent and adequate housing. For more information, see www.naehcy.org.
The National Center for Housing and Child Welfare (NCHCW) links housing resources and knowledge to child welfare agencies in order to improve family functioning, prevent family homelessness, and reduce the need for out-of-home placement. NCHCW also brings housing resources to child welfare agencies in order to ensure that older youth in foster care have a connection to permanent family as well as a solid plan for stable housing and services to help them be successful as adults.