Jun 14 2021

Students Experiencing Homelessness: The Conditions and Outcomes of Homelessness Among California Students

Young boy wearing a backpack facing away from the camera

Students experiencing homelessness in California are defined as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” Nearly 1 in 5 of the nation’s population of students identified as experiencing homelessness reside in California. The incidence of student poverty and homelessness in California has been rising steadily both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the total student population. Between 2015–16 and 2018–19, the number of students identified as experiencing homelessness in grades k–12 rose by 7%. Data for 2018–19 show that 270,000 or 1 in every 23 students in the state was identified as experiencing homelessness, and these figures likely represent an undercount. The greater incidence of homelessness among communities of color is particularly alarming. California data from 2018-19 shows that more than 7% of African American students, 6% of Native American or Alaskan students, and 6% of Pacific Islander students were identified as experiencing homelessness. Students experiencing homelessness in the state are also more likely to be English learners and eligible for special education services.

California is in the midst of a crisis of homelessness which is likely being exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis and its effects on already vulnerable communities. Students experiencing homelessness hold educational aspirations like those of their peers—to graduate from high school and go on to college. What separates students experiencing homelessness from their peers are the challenges of their circumstances, often due to the cumulative effects of poverty and the instability and disruption of social relationships associated with high mobility. Addressing the educational needs of students experiencing homelessness begins with increasing awareness and identifying those in need of services. However, an accurate count of student homelessness remains a challenge for a variety of reasons—fear of stigmatization, the mobile nature of this student population, inadequate staff capacity, and uneven school reporting procedures.

California is in the midst of a crisis of homelessness, with more than 1 in 5 of the nation’s students identified as experiencing homelessness residing in the state.

Students Experiencing Homelessness: The Conditions and Outcomes of Homelessness Among California Students is a contribution to a host of previous efforts to better understand the opportunities and academic outcomes of students experiencing homelessness. The report describes the population of students experiencing homelessness in California in 2018–19 and then, drawing on earlier data from the California Department of Education, identifies several school- and student-level factors associated with differences in academic achievement for these students, including living arrangements, school mobility, and school discipline. This report offers findings that highlight the multilayered challenges that students experiencing homelessness face and suggests comprehensive practice and policy strategies to be implemented across multiple levels of governance to improve educational outcomes.

Findings

  • The number of students identified as experiencing homelessness grew by more than 7% from 2015–16 to 2018–19.
  • Students experiencing homelessness are more likely to be chronically absent.
  • Students experiencing homelessness are less likely to complete high school and continue in their education.
  • Students experiencing homelessness are less likely than their peers to meet or exceed state achievement standards.
  • Schools with high teacher turnover and large proportions of underprepared teachers are associated with lower student achievement.

Recommendations

  • Federal actions to support students experiencing homelessness
    • Increase federal funding under McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and revise the formula to target funds based on the enrollment of students experiencing homelessness.
    • Increase federal funding for community schools and wraparound supports.
    • Align definitions of “homeless” used by federal housing and education programs.
  • State actions to support students experiencing homelessness
    • Elevate the visibility of students experiencing homelessness in the state’s accountability system by adding them as a stand-alone category under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).
    • Expand investments in community schools to provide wraparound supports that meet students’ multiple needs.
    • Create a state-level children’s cabinet to identify and address barriers to state and local cross-system collaboration.
    • Invest in training that prepares educators and support staff to work with and reengage students experiencing homelessness.
  • Local actions to support students experiencing homelessness
    • Improve identification of students experiencing homelessness by dedicating more staff time and resources to liaison responsibilities.
    • Increase access to school services and supports that reduce barriers to student engagement.
    • Provide wraparound supports through community schools and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS).

Students Experiencing Homelessness: The Conditions and Outcomes of Homelessness Among California Students by Dion Burns, Danny Espinoza, Naomi Ondrasek, and Man Yang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

This research was supported by the Stuart Foundation. Core operating support for the Learning Policy Institute is provided by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Heising-Simons Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Raikes Foundation, and Sandler Foundation. We are grateful to them for their generous support. The ideas voiced here are those of the authors and not those of our funders.

Updated December 01, 2021. Revisions are noted here.