Study finds that nearly 270,000 K-12 students in California were homeless last year

Nearly 270,000 kindergarten through 12th students in California experienced homelessness during the 2018-2019 school year, according to a report released Monday by UCLA.

The report from the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools also found that one in five community college students, one in 10 California State University students and one in 20 University of California students experienced homelessness during the year.

According to the report, "State of Crisis, Dismantling of Student Homelessness in California," the number of students experiencing homelessness in the state has increased by nearly 50% in the past decade. Given the disruption and economic fallout of COVID-19, the report's authors contend the number of students now experiencing homelessness is likely higher.


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"Dodger Stadium is empty these days, but can hold some 56,000 people for a big game," said Joseph Bishop, director of the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools and lead author of the report.

"California could fill the stadium with students experiencing homelessness almost five times and still probably need to use the parking lot for overflow. But our students are not in Dodger Stadium. We are talking about young people who may be sleeping on the streets, in cars or in shelters. This is a crisis that deserves immediate action."

According to the data, California's population of students experiencing homelessness is disproportionately Latino and Black, with Latino accounting for seven in 10 of those students. While Black students make up just 5% of the student population, they represent 9% of students experiencing homelessness.

"Homelessness impacts Latinx and Black students most with real and negative consequences," said Lorena Camargo Gonzalez, a UCLA researcher and report co-author.

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"The prevalence of Latinx and Black youth experiencing homelessness requires more racially and culturally responsive strategies in education practice and policy."

The report also examines the implications for student learning and success. An analysis of patterns in state data from the 2018-2019 academic school year has revealed that students experiencing homelessness are twice as likely to be suspended -- 6% versus 3% -- or chronically absent -- 25% versus 12% -- have a lower high school graduation rate -- 70% compared to 86% -- and nearly half as likely to be UC/CSU- ready -- 29% compared to 52% -- than their non-homeless peers.

Drawing on interviews with more than 150 students, educators, and homeless liaisons, the report identifies a need for greater capacity and dedicated funding to address the needs of homeless students.

The federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is intended to support the educational success of students experiencing homelessness. But just 106 of 1,037 school districts -- 9% -- in California received federal funding to meet the mandates of the law.

"The 106 MVA subgrants, which total over $10 million, touch about 97,000 young people or about one in three students experiencing homelessness in the state," Bishop said.

"Meanwhile, a majority of students and local education agencies receive no dedicated federal funds to support the educational success of students experiencing homelessness."

Some California schools' districts are prioritizing the needs of students experiencing homelessness through the Local Control Funding Formula planning process, or through the state's Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. But California has no dedicated funding stream to support students experiencing homelessness.

Those interviewed for the report also contend current professional capacity to serve homeless students is inadequate and comprehensive and targeted training and support it needed.

There is also a need for better coordination between education and community agencies and nonprofit organizations, and respondents urged a stronger focus on early education for homeless students.

Student experiencing homelessness also say they are often overlooked or misunderstood, and need support to fully engage in learning, according to the report.

"Even in these tense and difficult times, the large and growing number of students experiencing homelessness in our state is a crisis that should shock all of us," said Tyrone Howard, faculty director of the Center for the Transformation of Schools.

"We hope this report will create greater awareness of student homelessness, the racial disparities that exist with students experiencing homelessness, and provide policymakers with meaningful insight and information. Aggressive, immediate and effective action is needed by leaders at every level of government and in our community to dismantle this unacceptable crisis."

The report includes specific recommendations for school district, city and county, state and federal policies.

In addition to a review and analysis of data, the UCLA report identifies key findings based on interviews with more than 150 interviews with students, educators, community leaders and others in the field.

The report is a project of the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools. Funding for the research has been provided by the Raikes and Stuart Foundations, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and SchoolHouse Connection.