Learn More About Homelessness
- Family Income and Poverty
- Children in Poverty, by Race/Ethnicity
- Children in Deep Poverty
- Children Living in Low-Income Working Families
- Mothers with a Recent Birth Living in Families in Poverty
- Mothers with a Recent Birth Living in Low-Income Families
- Children in Poverty - Supplemental Poverty Measure (California & U.S. Only)
- Children in Poverty - California Poverty Measure
- Children in Deep Poverty - California Poverty Measure
- Poverty-Reducing Effects of the Social Safety Net - California Poverty Measure, by Program Type and Poverty Level (California Only)
- Families Living Below Self-Sufficiency Standard
- Children Participating in CalWORKs
- Student Demographics
- Food Security
- Childhood Adversity and Resilience
- Housing Affordability and Resources
- 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 kidsdata.org’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: https://www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/ahar/2020-ahar-part-1-pit-estimates-of-homelessness-in-the-us.html
2. California Coalition for Youth. (2018). California's road map: Preventing and ending youth homelessness. Retrieved from: https://calyouth.org/californias-road-map-preventing-and-ending-youth-homelessness
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: https://nche.ed.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Federal-Data-Summary-SY-15.16-to-17.18-Published-1.30.2020.pdf
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: https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/6/1206
5. Congressional Research Service. (2019). Runaway and homeless youth: Demographics and programs. Retrieved from: https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/RL33785/55
- 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).
- 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:
For more policy ideas on youth and family homelessness, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section, California Homeless Youth Project, California Coalition for Youth, or National Alliance to End Homelessness. Also see the following topics on kidsdata.org: Family Income and Poverty and Housing Affordability and Resources.
- 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)
Sources for this narrative:
1. Levin, M., & Botts, J. (2020). California's homelessness crisis – and possible solutions – explained. CalMatters. Retrieved from: https://calmatters.org/explainers/californias-homelessness-crisis-explained
2. Johnson, H., et al. (2020). California's future: Housing. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from: https://www.ppic.org/publication/californias-future-housing
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Essentials for childhood: Creating safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/essentials.html
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: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ecd/echomelessnesspolicystatement.pdf
5. California Coalition for Youth. (2018). California's road map: Preventing and ending youth homelessness. Retrieved from: https://calyouth.org/californias-road-map-preventing-and-ending-youth-homelessness
6. Bardine, D., et al. (2019). Family First Prevention Services Act: Implications for addressing youth homelessness. National Network for Youth & ChildFocus. Retrieved from: https://www.childfocuspartners.com/tools-publications/family-first-prevention-services-act-implications-for-addressing-youth-homelessness
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: https://www.jbaforyouth.org/heap-youth-2019
8. Congressional Research Service. (2019). Runaway and homeless youth: Demographics and programs. Retrieved from: https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/RL33785/55
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: https://www.library.ca.gov/content/pdf/crb/homelessyouth/SupportingStudentsExperiencingHomelessness.pdf
10. Jones, C. (2019). Schools fail to identify thousands of homeless children, state audit finds. EdSource. Retrieved from: https://edsource.org/2019/schools-fail-to-identify-thousands-of-homeless-children-state-audit-finds/620655
- Research & Links
- Websites with Related Information
- California Coalition for Youth
- California Homeless Youth Project. California State Library.
- California School Boards Association: Governance and Policy Resources
- EdSource: Homeless Youth
- Housing California
- National Alliance to End Homelessness
- National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth
- National Center for Homeless Education
- National Center on Family Homelessness. American Institutes for Research.
- National Homelessness Law Center
- National Network for Youth
- SchoolHouse Connection
- True Colors United
- U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness
- Voices of Youth Count. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
- Key Reports and Research
- Action Plan for Preventing and Ending Homelessness in California. (2022). California Interagency Council on Homelessness.
- California’s Homelessness Crisis – and Possible Solutions – Explained. (2020). CalMatters. Levin, M., & Botts, J.
- California's Future. (2021). Public Policy Institute of California. Hanak, E., et al.
- Early Care and Education for Young Children Experiencing Homelessness. (2018). National Center for Homeless Education. Moore, J.
- Family First Prevention Services Act: Implications for Addressing Youth Homelessness. (2019). National Network for Youth & ChildFocus. Bardine, D., et al.
- LGBT People and Housing Affordability, Discrimination, and Homelessness. (2020). Williams Institute. Romero, A. P., et al.
- Missed Opportunities: Evidence on Interventions for Addressing Youth Homelessness. (2019). Voices of Youth Count. Morton, M. H., et al.
- Providing Care for Children and Adolescents Facing Homelessness and Housing Insecurity. (2017). Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Community Pediatrics.
- Pushing Back Against School Pushout: Student Homelessness and Opportunities for Change. (2018). California Homeless Youth Project. Herr, E., et al.
- Responding to Youth Homelessness: A Key Strategy for Preventing Human Trafficking. (2018). National Network for Youth. Pilnik, L.
- Stabilizing Families in Supportive Housing. (2019). Urban Institute. McDaniel, M., et al.
- State Laws to Support Youth Experiencing Homelessness. (2023). SchoolHouse Connection.
- State of Homelessness: 2022 Edition. (2022). National Alliance to End Homelessness.
- Student Homelessness in America: School Years 2018-19 to 2020-21. (2022). National Center for Homeless Education.
- Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness: Perspectives from California’s Community Colleges. (2019). California Homeless Youth Project & ACLU Foundations of California. Hyatt, S., et al.
- Timing and Duration of Pre- and Postnatal Homelessness and the Health of Young Children. (2018). Pediatrics. Sandel, M., et al.
- County/Regional Reports
- Annual Report on the Conditions of Children in Orange County. Orange County Children's Partnership.
- Community Health Improvement Plan for Los Angeles County. Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health.
- Final Report and Recommendations on Homelessness in Alameda County, California. (2018). Urban Institute. Brown, S., et al.
- Homelessness Assessments. Applied Survey Research.
- Live Well San Diego Report Card on Children, Families, and Community. The Children’s Initiative.
- Pathway to Progress: Indicators of Young Child Well-Being in Los Angeles County. First 5 LA.
- Spotlight on the Inland Empire. (2021). Measure of America. Lewis, K.
- More Data Sources For Homelessness
- Annual Homeless Assessment Reports (AHAR) U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.
- California School Dashboard. California Dept. of Education.
- National Center for Homeless Education: Data and Statistics on Homelessness
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