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Homelessness (see data for this topic)

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Why This Topic Is Important
On a January night in 2020, 161,548 people living in California (41 per 10,000) were identified as homeless, over 30,000 more than were counted two years earlier. On this night, the state accounted for more than a quarter of all homeless people in the U.S., and more than a third of homeless unaccompanied youth under age 25 (1, 2). During the 2017-18 school year, more than 250,000 California school-aged children were recorded as homeless—not including young children who were not enrolled in public preschool, students who experienced homelessness during the summer only, or those who dropped out of school; this figure represents more than one in six of the record-high 1.5 million homeless public school students nationwide (3).

Homelessness at any point in a young person's life can cause severe trauma, hamper their development, disrupt their relationships, and put their health and safety at risk (4). Homeless children are more likely than others to experience hunger and malnutrition, physical and mental health issues, developmental delays, and academic problems (4). Many of these children and youth are exposed to deep poverty, family instability, drug use, or domestic violence before becoming homeless, and homelessness increases their vulnerability to additional trauma (4, 5). For example, homeless youth are vulnerable to exploitation, physical and sexual victimization, substance abuse, and other harmful experiences (5).

Some adolescents and young adults are at heightened risk of homelessness, such as African American and Hispanic youth, those who identify as LGBTQ, child welfare- and juvenile justice-involved populations, youth without a high school diploma or GED, and those who are pregnant or parenting (2, 5).
For more information, see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (2021). The 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress: Part 1. Point-in-time estimates of homelessness. Retrieved from:

2.  California Coalition for Youth. (2018). California's road map: Preventing and ending youth homelessness. Retrieved from:

3.  National Center for Homeless Education. (2020). Federal data summary school years 2015-16 to 2017-18: Education for homeless children and youth. Retrieved from:

4.  American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Community Pediatrics. (2017). Providing care for children and adolescents facing homelessness and housing insecurity. Pediatrics, 131(6), 1206-1210. Retrieved from:

5.  Congressional Research Service. (2019). Runaway and homeless youth: Demographics and programs. Retrieved from:
Policy Implications
California faces a homelessness crisis. The state's homeless population is the largest in the nation and has the highest proportion of homeless people staying in unsheltered locations—and numbers are rising (1). Many factors can contribute to a family or young person becoming homeless, such as mental illness, addiction, domestic violence, trauma, disabilities, and involvement with the child welfare or criminal justice systems (1). Policies addressing homelessness operate at several levels; together they can prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place, re-establish stable housing during an episode of homelessness, and end long-term homelessness through permanent housing with supportive services.

California policymakers have enacted a host of policy changes and approved billions in funding to address homelessness, housing affordability, and the housing supply (2). Local jurisdictions also have expanded funding and services to address homelessness and housing affordability (2). While these are substantial steps forward, continued efforts, investments, and coordination across sectors and levels of government will be needed to end the homelessness crisis.

Policy and program options to address family and youth homelessness include:
  • Supporting and expanding policies that increase the affordability of housing and incentivize the development of new housing for low-income and homeless populations; as part of this, supporting changes to zoning and other regulations to help reduce the cost of new housing construction (2)
  • Funding comprehensive support programs to address family and youth needs before there is a risk of homelessness; such programs may include employment or education support, financial assistance, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, parenting programs, domestic violence services, or other support (3, 4)
  • Improving the ability of local governments and community agencies to identify families at highest risk for homelessness and to intervene early with coordinated housing programs that offer case management and supportive services, housing subsidies or cash assistance to help families stay in their homes or gain stable housing, and eviction prevention services (1)
  • Supporting rapid rehousing programs for those who have recently lost their homes, which may include providing help finding a new home and/or financial assistance with security deposits and rent (1)
  • Promoting permanent supportive housing for those experiencing chronic homelessness, such as subsidized apartments with support services for mental health, addiction, health care, job training, and other needs (1, 2)
  • Examining systemic factors that place certain young people—e.g., African American, LGBTQ, and systems-involved youth, and those who are pregnant, parenting, or who didn't finish high school—at greater risk of becoming homeless, and strengthening collaboration among child welfare, juvenile justice, education, community agencies, and other sectors (5, 6)
  • Ensuring that sufficient, ongoing funding is in place to address youth and young adult homelessness specifically, including community outreach, open access drop-in centers, appropriate shelters or temporary housing, longer-term housing programs, individualized support services, and connections to supportive adults and networks (5, 7)
  • Supporting long-term investments to eliminate and safeguard against sexual exploitation and human trafficking, to which homeless youth are particularly vulnerable (5, 8)
  • Ensuring adequate resources, staffing, and training are in place for homeless liaisons in K–12 and public college settings to meet the needs of students experiencing homelessness, per federal and state law; also, improving efforts to accurately identify homeless students, a necessary step in order to secure funding and plan appropriate services (5, 9, 10)
For more policy ideas on youth and family homelessness, see’s Research & Links section, California Homeless Youth Project, California Coalition for Youth, or National Alliance to End Homelessness. Also see the following topics on Family Income and Poverty and Housing Affordability and Resources.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Levin, M., & Botts, J. (2020). California's homelessness crisis – and possible solutions – explained. CalMatters. Retrieved from:

2.  Johnson, H., et al. (2020). California's future: Housing. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from:

3.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Essentials for childhood: Creating safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children. Retrieved from:

4.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, et al. (2016). Policy statement on meeting the needs of families with young children experiencing and at risk of homelessness. Retrieved from:

5.  California Coalition for Youth. (2018). California's road map: Preventing and ending youth homelessness. Retrieved from:

6.  Bardine, D., et al. (2019). Family First Prevention Services Act: Implications for addressing youth homelessness. National Network for Youth & ChildFocus. Retrieved from:

7.  John Burton Advocates for Youth. (2019). Youth homelessness in California: What impact has the five percent youth set-aside in the Homeless Emergency Aid Program had so far? Retrieved from:

8.  Congressional Research Service. (2019). Runaway and homeless youth: Demographics and programs. Retrieved from:

9.  Hyatt, S., et al. (2019). Supporting students experiencing homelessness: Perspectives from California's community colleges. California Homeless Youth Project & ACLU Foundations of California. Retrieved from:

10.  Jones, C. (2019). Schools fail to identify thousands of homeless children, state audit finds. EdSource. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
In California, 277,736 public school students—4.5% of all enrollees—were recorded as being homeless at some point during the 2017-18 school year. This number is up from 2010-11, when 220,708 public school students (3.6%) were reported to be homeless.

Half of all homeless public school students in California were enrolled in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 5 in 2017-18, while 21% were in Grades 6-8 and 29% in Grades 9-12. Sharing housing with friends or relatives ('doubling up') was the most common type of nighttime residence among homeless students statewide (84%).

During the 2020 homeless point-in-time (PIT) count, 12,172 children and young adults ages 0-24 were found to be homeless and unaccompanied in California, down from 14,161 in 2013. Most of these homeless young people (9,510) were unsheltered, or residing in a place not ordinarily used as regular sleeping accommodation. The vast majority of unsheltered children and young adults were transitional age youth ages 18-24 (8,915), but a substantial number of unsheltered unaccompanied minors were identified as well (595).