For Immediate Release: December 13, 2016

Washington – The number of homeless children and youth enrolled in public schools in the United States has increased, even since the end of the recession, according to U.S. Department of Education (ED) data released today.

Public schools reported 1,263,323 children and youth, preK-12, who were identified as experiencing homelessness, and enrolled in school at some point in the 2014—2015 school year. This is a 3.5% increase over three years, and a 12% increase over four years, and a 34% increase since the recession ended in the summer of 2009.

Twenty-one states experienced an increase in homeless student population of more than 10 percent, including: Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

The report, “Federal Data Summary School Years 2012-13 to 2014-15: Education for Homeless Children and Youth” further found that:

  • Thirty-five states reported an increase in their homeless student populations between 2012 and 2014. Twenty-one states experienced growth of 10% or more, while only five states experienced a reduction of 10% or more.
  • Homelessness among unaccompanied homeless youth (youth experiencing homelessness on their own, apart from their families) saw the most marked increase, increasing by 21% over three years, to reach 95,032 students.
  • The grade with the largest number of students experiencing homelessness was kindergarten. Forty-seven percent of all students identified as homeless and enrolled in school were elementary-age or younger.
  • Federal per-pupil spending on students experiencing homelessness declined by $17.78 since the end of the recession and by $6.07 between fiscal years 2012 and 2015. Overall federal funding to support students experiencing homelessness remained at roughly the same level between fiscal years 2012 and 2015.
  • States provided an average per pupil rate of $50.08 in federal funding to school districts for the additional supports needed by homeless students.

The majority of students experiencing homelessness do not live in shelters. 76% were staying with other people temporarily, due to lack of alternatives, upon initial identification by schools. Another 7% were staying in motels when they were identified. These living situations are precarious, crowded, unstable, and often unsafe, leading to high rates of mobility. The use of hotels and motels grew, seeing an increase in use of nearly 19% over three years.  The ED data do not include homeless infants and toddlers, young children who are not enrolled in public preschool programs, and homeless children and youth who were not identified by school officials or enrolled in school

In addition to the new data above, research has shown that homelessness impacts children in a multitude of ways:

  • Academic success is compromised. Academic achievement in elementary school is slowed during periods of homelessness and housing instability. The achievement gaps between homeless and low-income elementary students tend to persist, and may even worsen, over time.
  • Young children suffer greatly. A 2015 study found that the younger and longer a child experiences homelessness, the greater the cumulative toll of negative health outcomes, which can have lifelong effects on the child, the family, and the community.

Earlier this year, a ground-breaking report from Civic Enterprises, Hidden in Plain Sight, details the struggles of homeless students in the U.S. and provides insight into how educators, policymakers and community organizations can help more students cope with homelessness, graduate from high school, and have a better shot at adult success.  This includes recommendations for implementation of new educational protections for homeless children and youth–the result of amendments to federal law made by the Every Student Succeeds Act that went into effect on October 1, 2016. These amendments place greater emphasis on appropriate staffing and training, pre-school age children, and supports to assist students to graduate from high school and transition to college.

In response to the Department of Education data, leading advocates for homeless children and youth released the following statements:

“The rise in youth homelessness means more students are being exposed to sex trafficking, abuse, hunger, and denial of their basic needs,” said Bruce Lesley, President of the First Focus Campaign for Children. “When our children and youth live with the kind of instability that comes with homelessness, they are too tired and hungry to concentrate, and fall further behind in school. We urge the new Administration and the new Congress to re-evaluate the direction of federal homelessness policy, and to adopt a comprehensive two-generational approach to address homelessness.”

“The data released today confirm what schools and communities see every day–too many children and youth struggling to survive without a home,” said Barbara Duffield, Executive Director of SchoolHouse Connection. “The new provisions for homeless students in the Every Student Succeeds Act need to be fully funded and implemented so that every homeless student is given the support they need to succeed. Intervening early, including access to early care and education, is a key to better life outcomes and preventing future homelessness.”

The data released by the U.S. Department of Education are available on the website of the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE). NCHE is the U.S. Department of Education’s technical assistance and information provider in the area of homeless education.


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 a priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit

SchoolHouse Connection is a new national organization promoting success for children and youth experiencing homelessness, from birth through higher education. SchoolHouse Connection engages in strategic advocacy and provides technical assistance in partnership with early care and education professionals (including school district homeless liaisons and state homeless education coordinators), young people, service providers, advocates, and local communities. For more information, visit