New information released by the United States Department of Education reveals that a record high number of public school students were homeless last year.
Over 1.1 million students enrolled in preschool or K-12 during the 2011-12 school year were homeless, comprising two percent of all public school students. The data (see PDF) shows a 10 percent increase in the number since the previous year, and a 72 percent increase since the recession started in late 2007. North Dakota is the state with the largest increase in its homeless student population, with a 212 percent increase from last year. But overall, California, New York, Texas, and Florida have the highest numbers of homeless students.
At night, 75 percent of these students double up in places with other families, while 15 percent stay in homeless shelters, 6 percent stay in hotels or motels, and 4 percent are unsheltered–meaning they may stay in cars, parks, campgrounds, temporary trailers, or abandoned buildings.
Federal investments in children and families significantly help to keep kids out of poverty and at a lower risk for homelessness. For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, currently in use by over 47 million Americans, reduced childhood poverty in 2012 by 1.67 million children. Despite these benefits, the House of Representatives recently voted to cut $4 billion annually from SNAP for the next ten years, totaling a $40 billion loss for the program.
“Headlines are filled with indicators that the economy is improving, but the record numbers of homeless students show that children and their families are still feeling the effects of a tough economy,” Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions, said in response to the data. “We can protect our homeless children by protecting investments in their housing, education, nutrition, and health in upcoming federal budget debates.”
This data does not reveal the full extent of homelessness in the US. It is estimated that around 3.5 million individuals overall experience homelessness in a given year, though exact numbers are hard to come by.