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Student homelessness rises to pre-pandemic levels; the largest homelessness rates—and increases—are among Native American, Black, English learner, and migrant students

The Public Policy Institute of California analyzes the K-12 student population and enrollment data, revealing the increase in student homelessness

By ONME Newswire

After three years of declines in California’s homeless K–12 student population, 2022–23 saw an increase in both the share and number of students experiencing homelessness. Recent cumulative enrollment data show that at least 4.1% of California’s students experienced homelessness at some point last school year—that’s 246,480 young people.

This is a notable increase over the prior year and marks a return to pre-pandemic levels. It is also higher than the share reported via Census Day enrollment (3.2%)—measured on a single day October—which suggests that more students experience housing instability over the course of a school year than can be measured at just one point in time.

From 2017 to 2019, roughly 4.1% to 4.3% of students experienced homelessness during the school year. After falling to less than 3.7% during the depths of the pandemic, it is now back to 4.1%. This increase is especially striking given the ongoing, overall decline in student enrollment. It may reflect rising cost of living pressures or expiring housing protections; it could also mean better identification of student homelessness post-pandemic. Regardless of the cause, the return to pre-pandemic levels is a troubling shift.

Homeless student enrollment has returned to pre-pandemic levels

Schools use a broader definition of homelessness than annual point-in-time (PIT) counts, which are taken on a single night in January. For example, schools count students who are temporarily doubling up in housing with others, which accounts for 84% of student homelessness. Another 7% are in temporary shelters while 6% live in hotels/motels; 4% of homeless students (9,451 students) are unsheltered.

Homelessness varies significantly by student demographics. Migrant students represent the largest share experiencing homelessness, at 11.8%—by definition, these students are highly mobile, which likely increases housing instability. Rates are also high for English Learners (7.2%). Across race/ethnic groups, homelessness is highest among Native American (7.1%) and Black (6.5%) students, and lowest among white, Filipino (both 2%), and Asian (1.2%) students.

Increases from 2021–22 to 2022–23 occurred across all student groups but were largest for migrant, English Learner, and Black students.

Largest homelessness rates—and increases—are among Native American, Black, English Learner, and migrant students

Support for students experiencing homelessness is limited—and becoming more so. Ongoing federal funding is minimal, restricted in how it can be used, and does not make it to most districts serving homeless students. Additional federal funding was issued during the pandemic—some specifically allocated for homeless students—but districts must spend all remaining funds by this September.

The state’s current budget deficit and other expiring pandemic-era aid programs may mean more supplemental programs are cut. And while the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) includes homeless students in its definition of high-need students, recent PPIC research shows that very few districts report spending any LCFF dollars on specific services for homeless students.

California’s student population has been impacted by deepening challenges around housinghomelessness, and affordability. Student homelessness has increased to pre-pandemic levels, and disproportionately affects high-need students and students of color. Amid budget constraints and the end of one-time pandemic funding, state policymakers will need to consider new ways to effectively identify and serve this vulnerable population.


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