More students experiencing homelessness than reported by public schools during last school year

More students are experiencing homelessness in 17 states than reported by the U.S. Department of Education, a 2017 survey from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 4.9 percent of students experienced homeless during the 2016-2017 academic year in 17 states, which is about 2.3 percent more than public schools reported, according to an analysis done by the national non-profit SchoolHouse Connection.

SchoolHouse Connection said it used demographic and risk factor data from the survey and compared that to high school students across multiple states.

The CDC developed the Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 1990 but included two questions pertaining to homelessness in its optional question list for the first time ever – one on housing, asking students where they slept during the past 30 days.

To better identify those experiencing homelessness in public schools, SchoolHouse Connection developed the following action steps that schools can take:

  • Alter school and district policies to include the definition of homelessness, signs of potential homelessness, and how to respond to such indicators
  • Ensure McKinney-Vento homeless liaisons are able to lead comprehensive identification activities at every school district and charter school
  • Refrain from using the word “homeless” when talking to students, parents, and caregivers and instead ask ‘where would you go if you couldn’t stay here?’ or ‘what led you to move in to this situation?’
  • Make information about the educational rights of students experiencing homelessness available and public
  • Connect young children from families experiencing homelessness to early intervention, Head Start, and preschool services by asking about any babies or toddlers in families experiencing homelessness
  • Collaborate with homeless service providers, faith communities, social services agencies, drop-in centers, food banks and other community-based organizations to identify families experiencing homelessness

According to the National Center for Homeless Education, more than 1.3 million children and youth attending public school experienced homelessness during the 2016-2017 academic year – approximately 49,917 more students than the year prior.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office found under-identification of homeless students by public schools to be a well-documented challenge, according to SchoolHouse Connection’s Risk and Resilience report.   

Read a summary of SchoolHouse Connection’s findings here:

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism.