About one in every 25 K-12 students in our state is homeless
Nearly half are Grade 5 or younger
School districts across the state of Washington identified 40,934 students in K-12 schools as having experienced homelessness during the 2016-17 academic year, a 3.2 percent increase over the previous year and more than double the number from just nine years ago.
Student homelessness data is collected by individual school districts, gathered by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and reported to the public. Schoolhouse Washington developed this snapshot of student homelessness from that data set.
For a more in-depth analysis of statewide data, please see this summary of our new report, Students Experiencing Homelessness in Washington’s K-12 Public Schools: Trends, Characteristics and Academic Outcomes, 2016-17. The report examines overall trends of student homelessness and – using school-level data provided by the state – we compare academic outcomes among students who are homeless, housed and low-income, and disaggregate those outcomes by race/ethnicity and nighttime residence. You may download our full report here.
How many students in K-12 schools are experiencing homelessness?
The number of students experiencing homelessness is the highest it ever has been since the state began tracking the data.
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.
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Nearly half of students experiencing homelessness are Grade 5 or younger.
In 2016-17, there were 19,914 students experiencing homelessness who were elementary school age or younger.
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.
Many students experiencing homelessness are not living with a parent or guardian.
Washington’s K-12 schools identified 5,379 unaccompanied youth who were homeless in 2016-17. 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).
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.
Students experiencing homelessness have lower graduation rates.
Homelessness is associated with an 87 percent increased likelihood of dropping out of school. Students experiencing the traumas of homelessness during their middle and high school years have a hard time remaining focused on their schoolwork and matriculating on time. They also tend to not complete the more rigorous courses needed to prepare for college and future employment.
In Washington, as in many other states, the graduation rate for students experiencing homelessness lags well behind that for all students, and even other economically disadvantaged students. The four-year graduation rate for students experiencing homelessness in the Class of 2017 was 53.9 percent, compared to 79.3 percent for all students.
Homelessness disproportionately impacts students of color.
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.
In 2015-16, one in every 10 African American/Black students in our K-12 schools experienced homelessness, compared one in every 38 for White students. Homelessness rates also were disproportionately high for students of other races and ethnicities: one in 11 Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander; one in 12 American Indian/Alaska Native; and 1 in 20 Hispanic/Latino.
Students experiencing homelessness are suspended or expelled more often.
In 2015-16, schools in Washington state suspended and expelled students experiencing homelessness at almost twice the rate of their housed peers. This denies the students 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.
 Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Number of Students Experiencing Homelessness Largest in State History.” Accessed April 12, 2018. http://www.k12.wa.us/Communications/PressReleases2018/HomelessnessIncrease.aspx  Ibid.  Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Washington State Requirements and Guidance for Education of Homeless Children and Youth.” Accessed May 9, 2016. http://www.k12.wa.us/HomelessEd/AssistanceAct.aspx  Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Washington State Education of Homeless Children and Youth.” Accessed April 12, 2018. http://www.k12.wa.us/HomelessEd/Data.aspx  Ibid.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Number of Students Experiencing Homelessness Largest in State History.” Accessed April 12, 2018. http://www.k12.wa.us/Communications/PressReleases2018/HomelessnessIncrease.aspx  Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Washington State Education of Homeless Children and Youth.” Accessed April 12, 2018. http://www.k12.wa.us/HomelessEd/Data.aspx  Harvard University: Center on the Developing Child. “Toxic Stress.” Accessed May 9, 2016. http://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/toxic-stress/  Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Education of Homeless Children and Youth Data Collection and Reports.” Accessed April 12, 2018. http://www.k12.wa.us/HomelessEd/Data.aspx  National Network for Youth. “Why Do Young People Become Homeless in America?” Accessed May 6, 2016. https://www.nn4youth.org/learn/why-homeless/#ftntref1  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. Accessed January 29, 2017. http://cahomelessyouth.library.ca.gov/docs/pdf/Hidden-in-Plain-Sight_FullReportFINAL.pdf  America’s Promise Alliance, Center for Promise at Tufts University. “Don’t Call Them Dropouts: Understanding the Experiences of Young People Who Leave High School Before Graduation.” Accessed April 13, 2018. http://gradnation.americaspromise.org/sites/default/files/d8/DCTD%20Final%20Full.pdf  Weaver-Randall, Katie and Lisa Ireland. “Graduation and Dropout Statistics 2018.” Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Accessed April 12, 2018. http://www.k12.wa.us/DataAdmin/pubdocs/GradDropout/16-17/2016-17GraduationDropoutStatisticsAnnualReport.pdf  Dyer, Melinda, and Jordyn Green. “Homeless Student Data: 2015-16.” Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Accessed January 29, 2017. http://www.k12.wa.us/LegisGov/2017documents/2017-01-HomelessEducation.pdf  Ibid.