Homeless Children: Update on Research, Policy, Programs, and Opportunities. Children in families meeting the ED definition of homelessness


Data on the numbers of children and youth who are enrolled in school and homeless under the ED definition are collected by State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) under the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Program and collated by the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) (2009). In the 2007–08 school year, more than 773,800 homeless children and youth were enrolled in school. ED data show that more than half of the homeless children enrolled in schools (65 percent) were living doubled up as their “primary nighttime residence,” 7 percent were living in hotels or motels, 21 percent were living in shelter, and 7 percent were unsheltered (see Figure 3). All of these children were age 5 and older, as pre-K enrollments are not included in this report.

Figure 3

ED Data, Primary Nighttime Residence by Category, SY 2007-2008

Figure 3:  ED Data, Primary Nighttime Residence by Category, SY 2007-2008

Data as reported by LEAs to ED show that there were 27,815 homeless children in public pre-K programs during the 2007-08 school year (NCHE, 2009). The number of homeless children in Head Start and Early Head Start programs during the 2008 program year was 29,684 (HHS, 2009), or a total of about 60,000. This small figure is an underestimate of the number of homeless preschoolers in that year.

The primary source of data for the NCHE report on ED data comes from the LEAs as required in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. LEAs in each school district submit data on homeless students to the SEAs who submit the data to ED. There were a total of 15,198 LEAs in the 2007–08 school year, 91 percent of which reported data. While fewer than 10 percent (1,364) of the LEAs received McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program subgrants, LEAs with these grants include 59 percent of enrolled homeless children. LEAs have access to other federal funds such as Title I, and many also have both local and state funds that they can use to provide services to homeless students.

ED data shows a 17 percent increase in the number of homeless children over the previous school year (2006–07). States that had an increase of at least 2,000 homeless students over the previous year were California (an increase of 46,235), Illinois (6,417), Iowa (3,032), Minnesota (2,155), New York (27,200), North Carolina (4,278), and Texas (19,346). States indicating a decrease in homeless students from the previous year were Louisiana, Michigan, and Mississippi. The report offers three possible reasons for these changes: better data collection, the impact of natural disasters, and the economic downturn.

As previously stated, much research on homeless children to date defines homelessness in a manner consistent with the HUD definition.  Very little existing research has studied children who meet the ED definition of homelessness. Such children can sometimes be found in comparison groups in studies that contrast families living in shelter to low-income families living in housing.  The difference between the ED group of children and the HUD group sampled in shelter is sometimes a matter of timing.  Episodes of homelessness among families meeting HUD criteria are often preceded by periods of residential instability, as families without housing double up with others, turning to shelter only after they wear out their welcomes with relatives and friends (e.g., Weitzman, Knickman, & Shinn, 1990).

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