The Number Of Homeless Children In American Public Schools Is Skyrocketing

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After hitting a record high in the 2011-2012 school year, the number of homeless students enrolled in American public schools jumped dramatically again last year.

In the 2012-2013 school year, there were 1,258,182 homeless students, according to newly released data from the National Center for Homeless Education. That’s an 8 percent increase from the 2011-2012 school year, when the 1,168,354 homeless students marked a record high. The number of homeless students has increased 85 percent since the beginning of the recession.

Most of these students are “doubled up,” or living in someone else’s home — 75 percent, or 936,441, were in this situation. More than 190,000 were in shelters, while another 70,000 lived in hotels or motels. Unsheltered students numbered 41,635, and while that is the smallest share of living situations, it’s still a large number of children without anywhere to sleep at night. There were also 75,940 students who were homeless and living without a parent.

The higher numbers may simply reflect an economy that continues to stagnate for many. “The significant increase in homeless students indicates that the recession is having a lingering effect for many children and families, and a severe lack of affordable housing in the United States is a major contributor,” Cara Baldari, senior policy director for family economics at First Focus Campaign for Children, told ThinkProgress.

Affordable housing is indeed a growing problem. The median monthly cost for housing that was built in the last four years is more than $1,000, while the average apartment is now renting for about $1,100. The demand for affordable housing far outstrips the supply: There are 11.8 renters making $15,000 a year or less but just 6.9 million housing units they could afford. There was a shortfall of 5.3 million affordable housing units in 2011, compared to a surplus of 300,000 in 1970. And rents have been rising since the recession but incomes are stagnating.

As the number of homeless students has been rising, academic achievement may be falling. The share of homeless students testing proficient in reading and math declined each school year between 2010-2011 and 2012-2013, dropping from 52 percent to 47 percent in reading last year and 51 percent to 44 percent in math. It’s possible, however, that these drops are due to changing educational standards.

Even these record-breaking numbers are an under-count. According to the First Focus Campaign for Children, “The data do not include homeless infants and toddlers, young children who are not enrolled in public preschool programs, and homeless children and youth who were not identified by school officials.” Many of the children counted also don’t get services from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) because they are living in someone else’s home or a hotel, therefore not fitting HUD’s criteria for homelessness. Just over 1 million are eligible for educational assistance, but not shelter, short-term housing, or help getting permanent housing. The Homeless Children and Youth Act, which was introduced in July, would change HUD’s definition to include them.