Our aim in producing this report is to help policymakers and education system leaders to better understand the systemic and social obstacles that adversely impact students experiencing homelessness. We plan to follow-up this report by documenting promising, evidence-based models and practices statewide that have shown healthy academic outcomes for students experiencing homelessness.
Although California is one of the wealthiest states in the nation, significant challenges remain for its large and growing homeless population. California remains profoundly economically, socially, and racially stratified (Bohn & Danielson, 2016). Such social stratification contributes substantially to the difficulties of serving this vulnerable population. Interviews with educators, service providers, and homeless students themselves have shown how school and higher education systems (e.g., early education, K-12, postsecondary) are responding to the growing crisis of student homelessness and the nature of obstacles that thwart their progress. Examining the available empirical data makes clear that the problems experienced by homeless students are more pronounced in California than in any other state (HUD, 2016).
Broader awareness about the unique needs of the population of students experiencing homelessness can help improve educational outcomes. Each segment of the education community (early education, K-12, higher education) should adopt a targeted, coordinated strategy, along with a coherent plan for students as they transition along the education pipeline. Local, state and federal lawmakers should act aggressively to address the alarming rates of food insecurity and gaps in basic needs as part of a comprehensive response to homelessness. The COVID-19 public health crisis has led to heightened awareness about the critical role schools play in providing valuable resources such as food and shelter to vulnerable populations.
As schools reopen, they will face an increased need for improved coordination of services for homeless students. Families that were already on the brink of financial and housing insecurity may become eligible for homelessness assistance due to COVID-19.
Schools and higher education institutions play a pivotal role in bringing services, resources, and academic support to students to improve their ability to get educated, find employment and improve their quality of life. Student homelessness is a problem that cannot be solved by educational institutions alone. However, with greater focus, California’s education sector can profoundly change the academic trajectory of students experiencing homelessness. Key decision-makers from the public and private sector, including students, educators and lawmakers must be part of the solution to make the best use of increasingly limited resources to address a growing challenge.
We hope that by drawing attention to the perspectives of educators and service providers on the front lines, we can bring greater public awareness to this problem. By highlighting the perspectives of students who experience homelessness, this report can potentially catalyze sustained and strategic action among policymakers, educators, and concerned citizens to ameliorate this growing crisis.
Appropriate Citation: Bishop, J.P., Camargo Gonzalez, L., Rivera, E. (2020). State of Crisis: Dismantling Student Homelessness in California. Center for the Transformation of Schools, School of Education & Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles.