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Homelessness (see data for this topic)

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Why This Topic Is Important
Homelessness causes severe trauma to children and youth, disrupting their relationships, putting their health and safety at risk, and hampering their development (1, 2). Homeless children are more likely than other children to experience hunger and malnutrition, and to develop physical and mental health problems (2). Emotional distress, developmental delays, and decreased academic achievement are also more common among this population (2). Many of these children and youth experience deep poverty, family instability, and exposure to domestic violence before becoming homeless, and homelessness increases their vulnerability to additional trauma (1, 2). In addition to the risks faced by homeless children, including increased vulnerability to sexual exploitation, youth without homes are far more likely than their peers to be infected with HIV and have other serious health problems (2, 3, 4).

During the 2015-16 school year, more than 1.3 million children in the U.S. public school system were homeless, a historic high for the nation (5). California, alone, accounted for approximately one-fifth of all homeless public schools students in the U.S. that year, and has ranked 48th of all 50 states in performance on issues of child homelessness (1, 5).
Sources for this narrative:

1.  Bassuk, E. L., et al. (2014). America’s youngest outcasts: A report card on child homelessness. National Center on Family Homelessness. Retrieved from:

2.  American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Community Pediatrics. (2013). Providing care for children and adolescents facing homelessness and housing insecurity. Pediatrics, 131(6), 1206-1210. Retrieved from:

3.  Walker, K. (2013). Ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children: A call for multi-system collaboration in California. California Child Welfare Council. Retrieved from:

4.  California Homeless Youth Project. (2014). HIV and youth homelessness: Housing as health care. Retrieved from:

5.  National Center for Homeless Education. (2017). Federal data summary school years 2013-14 to 2015-16: Education for homeless children and youth. Retrieved from:
Policy Implications
Youth and family homelessness are often associated with extreme poverty, lack of access to affordable housing, and domestic violence, among other issues (1). Policies to address homelessness can operate at three levels: (i) preventing families from becoming homeless in the first place, (ii) intervening early during an episode of homelessness and returning families to housing, and (iii) providing permanent supportive housing to end long-term homelessness.

Policy and program options that could address family and youth homelessness include:
  • Unifying assessment practices across county and community agencies to identify families at risk for homelessness, providing coordinated housing programs that offer case management and supportive services, offering housing subsidies or cash assistance to help families either stay in their homes or gain stable housing, and facilitating eviction prevention through housing courts and landlord-tenant mediation (1, 2)
  • Providing employment and vocational training to parents, along with comprehensive support to the whole family, e.g., children’s services, parenting programs, mental health or substance abuse treatment, domestic violence services, case management, and/or other needed support (1, 3)
  • Effectively implementing the education subtitle of the federal McKinney-Vento Act, which requires removing barriers that prevent homeless children from receiving a quality education, such as providing transportation to the child’s school of origin (their ‘home’ school) and waiving documentation requirements for school enrollment (e.g., documentation of immunization, residency, legal guardianship, birth certificates, etc.); also, ensuring adequate school staffing and training to comply with the law (3, 4)
  • Explicitly addressing the needs of homeless students in Local Control and Accountability Plans, which determine public school activities to support disadvantaged students (4)
  • Combating homelessness among unaccompanied youth by providing individualized service planning, ongoing support services, independent living skills training, connections to trustworthy and supportive adults and networks, and employment and education support (3, 5)
  • Providing support to homeless youth to safeguard against, and eliminate, the sexual exploitation of youth, to which homeless youth are particularly vulnerable (6)
For more policy ideas on youth and family homelessness, see's Research & Links section, the California Homeless Youth Project, the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, or the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Also see Policy Implications under the following topics on Family Income and Poverty, Housing Affordability, and Intimate Partner Violence.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. (2010). Homelessness among families with children. Retrieved from:

2.  Corporation for Supportive Housing. (2011). Approaches for ending chronic homelessness in California through a coordinated supportive housing program. Retrieved from:

3. Hyatt, S. (2013). More than a roof: How California can end youth homelessness. California Homeless Youth Project. Retrieved from:

4.  Hyatt, S., et al. (2014). California’s homeless students: A growing population. California Homeless Youth Project. Retrieved from:

5.  U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. (2015). Opening doors: Federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. Retrieved from:

6.  Walker, K. (2013). Ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children: A call for multi-system collaboration in California. California Child Welfare Council. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
In California, 275,448 public school students—4.4% of all enrollees—were recorded as being homeless at some point during the 2015-2016 school year. This number is up from 2010-2011, when 220,708 public school students (3.6%) were reported to be homeless.

More than half of all homeless public school students in California (52.3%) were enrolled in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 5 in 2015-2016, while 20.1% were in Grades 6-8 and 27.6% in Grades 9-12. Sharing housing with friends or relatives ('doubling up') was the most common type of nighttime residence among homeless students statewide (85.2%).

During the 2017 homeless point-in-time (PIT) count, 15,458 children and young adults ages 0-24 were found to be homeless and unaccompanied in California, up from 14,161 in 2013. Most of these homeless young people (12,749) 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 (11,298), but a substantial number of unsheltered unaccompanied minors were identified as well (1,451). Almost two thousand more unsheltered transitional age youth were counted in 2017 than in 2013.