Spotlight on Key Indicators: Homelessness

Learn More About Homelessness

Family Income and Poverty
Food Security
Dating and Domestic Violence
Disconnected Youth
Housing Affordability
Why This Topic Is Important
Homelessness causes severe trauma to children, 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 have physical and mental health problems, to experience hunger, and to have educational problems (1, 2). Many of these children and youth experience deep poverty, 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, youth without homes are far more likely than their peers to be infected with HIV (3) and have other serious health problems (2).

According to data from the National Center for Homelessness Education, more than 1 million children in the U.S. public school system are homeless. California, alone, accounted for just over one-fifth of all homeless public schools students in the nation in recent years, the largest share of any state (4).

Sources for this narrative:

1.  National Center on Family Homelessness. (2011). America’s youngest outcasts 2010: State report card on child homelessness. Retrieved from:

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

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

4.  National Center for Homeless Education. (2014). National overview: Consolidated state performance report. National Center for Homeless Education. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
In 2013, 269,663 California public school students, 4.3% of all public school students, were reported to be homeless at any time during the school year. This percentage is up from the 2010-2011 school year, when 3.6% of public school students were reported to be homeless.

More than half of all homeless public school students in California were enrolled in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 5 (52%) in 2013, while 21% were in grades 6-8 and 27% in grades 9-12. 'Doubling up' with others for nighttime residence was the most common living situation among homeless public school students (86% in 2013).
Policy Implications

Student and family homelessness is often associated with extreme poverty, lack of access to affordable housing, weak social networks, and domestic violence, among other issues (1). Policies to address homelessness can operate at three levels: preventing families from becoming homeless in the first place; intervening early during a first spell of homelessness to return the family to housing; and ending long-term homelessness.

According to research and subject experts, policy and program options that could address family homelessness include:

  • Unifying assessment practices across county and community-based agencies to identify families at risk of homelessness; providing coordinated housing programs that offer case management and supportive services; offering housing subsidies or cash assistance for mortgage/rent, which can 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 to help them earn income, and providing comprehensive support to the whole family, e.g. children’s services, parenting programs, mental health, trauma and substance abuse services, domestic violence services, case management, and/or other needed support (1, 3, 4)
  • Effectively implementing 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; also, ensuring adequate school staffing and training to comply with the law (4, 5, 6)
  • Explicitly addressing the needs of homeless students in Local Control and Accountability Plans, which determine public school activities to support disadvantaged students (6)
  • 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 (4, 7)
  • Providing support to homeless youth to safeguard against, and eliminate, the sexual exploitation of youth, where homeless youth are particularly vulnerable (8)

For more policy ideas on youth and family homelessness, see's Research & Links section, the California Homeless Youth Project, National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and YouthUnited States Interagency Council on Homelessness, or the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Also see Policy Implications under the following topics on Family Income & Poverty, Housing Affordability, and Dating & Domestic Violence.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. (2010). Federal strategic plan supplemental document: 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.  National Center on Family Homelessness. (n.d.). Basic principles of care for families and children experiencing homelessness. Retrieved from:

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

5.  National Center on Family Homelessness. (2011). America’s youngest outcasts 2010: State report card on child homelessness. Retrieved from:

6.  Hyatt, S., Walzer, B., & Julianelle, P. (2014). California’s homeless students: A growing population. California Homeless Youth Project. Retrieved from:

7.  U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. (2014). Opening doors: Federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. Retrieved from:

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

Websites with Related Information
Key Reports
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Homelessness