The Challenge

Over 269,000 of CA K-12, 1 in 5 CCC, 1 in 10 CSU, and 1 in 20 UC students are experiencing homelessness, a number that has risen nearly 50% in the last decade. These numbers are likely higher in reality due to COVID-19. This report explores the supports students experiencing homelessness need to succeed academically. Our analysis is based on the perspectives of 150 stakeholders from across the state, including service providers, community-based organizations, Local Education Agencies (LEAs), and higher education institutions in the state of California.

We hope that by elevating the perspectives of school personnel, frontline service providers, and students who experience homelessness, this report can serve as a catalyst for sustained and strategic action to ameliorate this crisis.

View data for all 58 CA counties using our Interactive Map tool.

COVID-19 & Student Homelessness

Distance learning has increased challenges for students who depend on school for shelter, safety, adequate technology, internet access, and meals. Shelter at Home orders pose additional public health challenges for students who experience housing instability. Communities of color, who experience homelessness disproportionately, are prone to suffer higher rates of infection from the virus, and the economic burden disproportionately falls on black and Latinx parents who are less likely to be able to work from home during the pandemic.

We have identified five ways that districts can prepare for expected growth in students experiencing homelessness, as shared recently in EdSource:

  1. Ask and listen. Checking in regularly, both formally (i.e. surveys) and informally, can give young people the space to share their interests, provide feedback on lessons and open up about what might be affecting their ability to learn.
  2. Universal screening. Schools can ask all students about the economic impact of the coronavirus lockdowns on their families’ financial and housing situations before they return to school, so they get access to services early on in the summer and school year.
  3. Relationships first. Schools can act as a powerful buffer against the adverse effects of the pandemic by helping to establish a safe and supportive environment for learning. From morning meetings to regular check-ins with students, strategies that center around relationship-building in creative ways with minimal face-to-face connections will be needed in the fall.
  4. Differentiated & flexible instruction. Students experiencing homelessness whom we interviewed suggested schools could do more to prioritize flexibility in schedules, coursework and even transportation to help mitigate potential stressors. Giving students choices in class and multiple ways to demonstrate their learning can ease transitions and improve overall student engagement.
  5. Greater coordination. Housing, child welfare and school system stakeholders across cities and counties must work together more effectively to alleviate barriers faced by students and families. This includes sharing resources, staffing and ideas.

School reopening guidance from the state of CA:

For latest updates on COVID-19, follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Defining Homelessness

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (McKinney-Vento Act) (42 U.S.C. § 11431-11435) suggests that all school-aged children experiencing homelessness have access to the same free, appropriate public education as non-homeless youth.

Students are eligible for McKinney Vento if they lack a fixed, regular or adequate nighttime residence.

This definition also includes:

  1. Children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason;
  2. Children and youths who may be living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, and shelters;
  3. Children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as regular sleeping accommodation for human beings;
  4. Children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings, or;
  5. Migratory children who qualify as homeless because they are children who are living in similar circumstances listed above.

Even within this broad definition, many school officials fail to identify students who are experiencing homelessness.

Resources Toolkit

We’ve created a toolkit of resources useful to educators, homeless liaisons, school administrators, and others working with homeless youth and families.

Shareable Graphics

Save these social graphics to your computer to share about the report.

Thank you to the following for their support: