In the 2009-2010 school year, 939,903 youth in public schools were homeless as defined by the Department of Education. This was a 41 percent increase from the 2006-2007 school year. The most often reported living situation for homeless youth was sharing a house due to the loss of housing because of economic hardship or a similar reason.1
A number of studies2 have found that homeless and runaway youth face academic and behavioral problems at school including low graduation rates, high expulsion and suspension rates, high special education placement rates, and high grade retention. Studies have found the rates to be similar to, or more extensive than, housed youth living in poverty.3
For example, a small 2005 study of 18- to 21-year-old youth experiencing homelessness found that two-thirds had not obtained a high school diploma or a GED certificate at the point of program intake.4 Further, a study using the Department of Education’s definition of homelessness with four primary grade cohorts in the Minnesota Public School district, found that homeless and highly mobile students were significantly behind their low-income-but-housed peers as well as their more socioeconomically advantaged peers for both reading and math achievement throughout elementary school. Homelessness and high mobility were found to be risk factors above and beyond poverty, gender, English language learner status, ethnicity, and attendance rates.5
Despite these findings, homeless youth are not a homogenous group. Studies have found that some youth are able to perform as well as or above their peers despite the challenges and stressors they face, while others appear to struggle.6
Homeless children face many barriers to education, including
- the inability to meet enrollment requirements (including requirements to provide proof of residency and legal guardianship, and school and health records);
- high mobility resulting in lack of school stability and educational continuity;
- lack of transportation;
- lack of school supplies and clothing;
- lack of awareness and support from school staff; and
- poor health, fatigue, and hunger.7
When these barriers are not addressed, homeless children and youth often are unable to attend—or even enroll in—school, which prevents them from obtaining an education and creating further challenges as they transition to adulthood. Schools have been mandated with addressing these barriers by raising awareness about the challenges that homeless youth face, implementing policies to limit barriers to enrollment and transportation issues, providing in-school and related services to support homeless youth, conducting outreach to identify homeless youth who may not be attending schools, and involving a coordinator who can help to oversee homeless youth at the local or state level.8
Schools and school-based prevention programs for homeless youth have the potential to provide prosocial environments where youth can develop positive social bonds. While specific programs to prevent homelessness have not been developed or evaluated, programs targeted at preventing some of the risk factors for homelessness (e.g., substance abuse, youth delinquency) have shown positive effects.9 Federal programs such as the Transitional Living Program provide educational support services to help youth receive a GED, access post-secondary education, and develop vocational skills.
Adolescent Well-Being after Experiencing Family Homelessness
New analysis of data from the HUD-funded Family Options Study of interventions for homeless families examines adolescents’ experiences in shelter with their families and 20 months later. The analysis shows that most adolescents continued to live with their families, and some continued to experience housing instability or live in overcrowded situations. These adolescents were more likely to have changed schools or been absent from schools than their peers nationally, and school mobility was associated with persistent homelessness or doubling up. Young people who changed schools frequently had slightly lower grades, less motivation, and slightly more problem behaviors than those who did not. Twenty months after a shelter stay with their families, adolescents exhibited more problem behaviors generally than their peers nationally.
Education of Homeless Children and Youth Program
Formula grants are provided to the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico based on each state’s share of Title I, Part A funds. The outlying areas and the Bureau of Indian Affairs also receive funds. These funds are provided so that Local Education Agencies and State Education Agencies can implement the requirements mandated in the McKinney Vento Act. For example, this includes: funds for an office to coordinate the education of homeless children and youth in each state; assistance to State Education Agencies to ensure that homeless children, including preschoolers, have equal access to free and appropriate public education (FAPE); and mandates that states review and revise laws and practices that impede such equal access.
National Center for Homeless Education at SERVE (NCHE)
NCHE is the U.S. Department of Education's technical assistance and information center in the area of homeless education. Its website provides a range of resources and support around homelessness, including websites, reports, briefs, training resources, videos, curriculum materials, and more. For assistance with homeless education issues, contact the NCHE helpline at 1-800-308-2145 (toll-free) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Bowman, Dukes, & Moore, 2012
2 Most studies of homeless youth focus on youth in shelters (HUD definition of homelessness) and vary in the sample size, experience of homelessness, supports provided, and research design.
3 Samuels, Shinn, & Bruckner, 2010; Toro, Dworsky, & Fowler, 2007; Aratani, 2009; Thompson & Pollio, 2006
4 Barber, 2005
5 Obradovic et al., 2009
6 Huntington, Bruckner, & Bassuk, 2008; Obradovic et al., 2009
7 Health Resources and Services Administration, 2001; U.S. Department of Education, 2002
8 U.S. Department of Education, 2002
9 Toro, Dworsky, & Fowler, 2007