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. 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).

According to 2010 estimates from the National Center on Family Homelessness, approximately 1.6 million children ages 0-18 in the U.S., or about 1 in 45, are homeless each year. California alone accounted for 25% or more of all homeless children in the U.S. between 2006 and 2010. California ranked 46th out of the 50 states in the extent of child homelessness in 2010, with 1 being the best and 50 being the worst (1). 

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.  Bassuk, E. L. & Friedman, S. M. (2005). Facts on trauma and homeless children. National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Retrieved from:

3.  National Coalition for the Homeless. (2008). Homeless youth. Retrieved from:

How Children Are Faring
In 2011, 220,738 California public school students in grades K-12, or 3.6% of all public school students, were reported to be homeless. This percentage has fluctuated in recent years but represents an increase from 2004, when 2.3% of public school students were reported to be homeless.
Policy Implications

Family homelessness is often associated with extreme poverty, lack of access to affordable housing, weak social networks, and domestic violence (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 federal law that requires removing barriers that prevent homeless children from receiving a quality education, including providing transportation to the child’s school of origin (their “home” school), waiving documentation requirements for school enrollment, and providing truly equal access to school (5)
  • 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 (6)
  • Providing support to homeless youth to safeguard against, and eliminate, the sexual exploitation of youth, where homeless youth are particularly vulnerable (7)

For more policy ideas on child homelessness and housing, visit the Research & Links section on, or the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, National Center on Family Homelessness, and 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.  National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. (2009). Some facts on homelessness, housing, and violence against women. Retrieved from: Facts on Homeless and DV.pdf

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

6.  U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. (2010). Opening doors: Federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. Retrieved from:

7.  California Child Welfare Council. (2013). Ending sexual exploitation of children: A call for multi-system collaboration in California. Retrieved from:

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