The number of homeless students in Indiana schools has more than doubled since before the Great Recession, according to the Indianapolis Star, giving the Hoosier State the dubious distinction of having one of the largest jumps in student homelessness of any state over that period of time. Overall, student homelessness is up 121 percent in Indiana.
A total of 16,223 Indiana students were homeless in the 2012–13 academic year, the paper reports, compared to about 7,300 homeless students in 2006–07. The state’s suburban and rural areas have seen the largest jump in student homelessness in percentage terms. The number of students without a place to sleep nearly tripled in Morgan County, and increased by almost 900 percent in Madison County. But the homeless student population is concentrated in Marion County, which includes Indianapolis. The county’s homeless student population grew by 69 percent to 5,233 over the period the Star reviewed.
Last fall, the Department of Education reported that there were over 1.1 million homeless primary, secondary, and preschool students nationwide in 2011–12, which one children’s advocacy group said was a 72 percent increase from the start of the economic downturn.
But the only state that reported a higher percentage increase in student homelessness in that October report than what Indiana has experienced was North Dakota, where student homelessness rose 212 percent. The next highest percentage increases were in Maine (58 percent), North Carolina (53 percent), and Michigan (42 percent). Department of Education figures for the 2012–13 school year are not yet out, which makes comparisons to the data published by the Star somewhat flawed. When the full data set is updated in the fall, Indiana’s alarming jump in student homelessness could prove to be either the outlier it appears to be today, or an early warning that an already large national problem has gotten significantly worse.
The total number of homeless children is even larger than the tally of homeless students, with 1.6 million children homeless in 2010 according to the National Center on Family Homelessness.
That most dire form of privation doesn’t tell the whole story of child poverty in America, of course. More than 16 million children live in poverty around the country, and America has one of the highest child poverty rates of any developed nation. Academic research suggests that growing up in poverty alters brain function and undermines a child’s academic success and long-term mental and physical health.