One in every 27 K-12 students in our state is homeless

About half are Grade 5 or younger


School districts across the state of Washington identified 39,671 K-12 students as having experienced homelessness during the 2015-16 academic year, an 11.7 percent increase over the previous year and more than double the number from just eight years ago.[1]

Schoolhouse Washington has analyzed this data, which is collected by individual school districts, gathered by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, and reported to the public.[2] Our analysis provides a snapshot of student homelessness in our K-12 schools, the demographics of students experiencing homelessness, and how they are faring academically.​

Number of Students Experiencing Homelessness

What does student homelessness in Washington look like?

Public schools in our state and across the nation use the U.S. Department of Education’s McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness. This definition is purposefully inclusive to capture students who are experiencing an array of housing instability that may be disruptive to their educational success.[3]



28,942 students share housing of other persons due to loss of housing or family economic hardship.[4]


In Shelters

6,174 students live in youth
or family shelters.[5]


Hotels and Motels

2,421 students live in motels or other day-to-day accommodations.[6]



2,134 students live on the streets, in cars or other places not meant for human habitation.[7]

About half of students experiencing homelessness are Grade 5 or younger. [8]

The age of students is a critical point when considering the effects that homelessness can have on the brain development of children. Housing instability can trigger strong, frequent and prolonged periods of stress, known as “toxic stress,” which for young children can result in lifelong vulnerabilities to mental and physical health disorders.[9]

Many students experiencing homelessness are not living with a parent or guardian.

Washington’s K-12 schools identified 3,412 unaccompanied youth who were homeless in 2015-16.[10] That means they face homelessness while not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. These students often juggle completing their homework with finding a safe place to sleep.

Most unaccompanied youth are homeless due to factors outside their control, including parental abandonment, parental substance abuse, parental conflict with a youth’s sexual orientation, family dysfunction, physical and sexual abuse, and involvement with public systems (such as foster care, juvenile justice or mental health).[11]

The number of unaccompanied youth in fact may be undercounted. The population is difficult to identify due to their transient existence and the lack of resources tailored to meet their needs.[12]

Homelessness disproportionately impacts students of color. [13]

The increased number of students experiencing homelessness in Washington state is a result of complex social and institutional forces affecting families, including the rising cost of living, lack of affordable housing and stagnant wages. Implicit bias, discrimination and institutional racism have compounded these factors for communities of color, making it difficult for generations of families to gain economic stability.

Students experiencing homelessness are almost twice as likely to be suspended or expelled. [14]

Schools in Washington state are suspending and expelling students experiencing homelessness at almost twice the rate of their housed peers, which in turn denies them the essential services they need to succeed in school.

The McKinney-Vento Act ensures that students identified as experiencing homelessness receive a host of resources including automatic enrollment, waiving of accrued fees and fines, full participation in school (including extracurricular activities), transportation to and from school and free meals. These services are critical to the success and retention of students experiencing homelessness, and are completely inaccessible if students are suspended or expelled from their schools.

To copy and use infographics appearing on this page, see Infographics on student homelessness to share.


[1] Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Number of Homeless Students Climbs for Eighth Consecutive year,” January 29, 2017.
[2] Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Washington State Education of Homeless Children and Youth.” Accessed January 29, 2017.
[3] Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Washington State Requirements and Guidance for Education of Homeless Children and Youth.” Accessed May 9, 2016.
[4] Dyer, Melinda, and Jordyn Green. “Homeless Student Data: 2015-16.” Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Accessed January 29, 2017.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Education of Homeless Children and Youth Data Collection and Reports.” Accessed January 29, 2017.
[9] Harvard University Center on the Developing Child. “Toxic Stress.” Accessed May 9, 2016.
[10] Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Legislative Report 2015-16 Demographics.” Accessed January 29, 2017.
[11] National Network for Youth. “Why Do Young People Become Homeless in America?” Accessed May 6, 2016.
[12] Auerswald, Colette L., Laura Petry, and Shahera Hyatt. “Hidden in Plain Sight: An Assessment of Youth in Point-in-Time Counts of California’s Unsheltered Homeless Population.” California Homeless Youth Project, April 2013.
[13] Dyer, Melinda, and Jordyn Green. “Homeless Student Data: 2015-16.” Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Accessed January 29, 2017.
[14] Ibid.