The National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro released a new report in January on student homelessness in the United States. The annual report, Federal Data Summary School Years 2015-2016 to 2017-2018: Education for Homeless Children and Youth, provides information on students who experienced homelessness and were reported in public schools over a three-year comparison period.
This blog post unpacks the definition used to measure student homelessness, highlights some of the key findings from the report and discusses what these findings could mean for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
MCKINNEY-VENTO HOMELESSNESS DEFINED
The Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program (EHCY) was authorized under Subtitle VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Its purpose is to ensure that students who experience homelessness have equal access to educational services and resources. The definition for homelessness used by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is broader than the definition used by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), which sets the parameters for activities and funding for programs like the Continuum of Care (CoC) and Point-in-Time Count.
The definitions for homelessness used by HUD and ED both include emergency shelter, transitional housing, and sleeping in unsheltered locations. However, the definition used by ED to define student homelessness also includes living in doubled up situations with family and/or friends; paying to stay in hotels or motels; abandoned in hospitals; and/or awaiting foster care placement. Most of the population experiencing student homelessness are in doubled up living situations, which does not overlap with the population experiencing homelessness as HUD defines it. In addition, student homelessness is reported as a total number for the school year. This means the total population includes all students who were reported as homeless at some point during the school year even if a student may have also found housing before the end of the school year. Unlike the Point-in-Time Count, which is a one-night snapshot, student homelessness is a cumulative count.
KEY FINDINGS FROM THE REPORT WITH CONTEXT USING LOCAL DATA
According to the NCHE report, the number of identified, enrolled students in the United States reported as experiencing homelessness at some point during the last three schools years increased 15%, from 1,307,656 students in during 2015-2016 school year to 1,508,265 students in the 2017-2018 school year. The total in North Carolina increased overall from the 2015-2016 school year to the 2017-2018 school year, but decreased 1% (420 students) between the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years.
During the same comparison period used in the NCHE report, student homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg increased 18% from 3,913 students during the 2015-2016 school year to 4,598 students during the 2017-2018 school year. According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg State of Housing Instability and Homelessness Report, this number has continued to increase with 4,744 students experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools during the 2018-2019 school year.
The NCHE report breaks down the type of homelessness experienced by students. At the point of identification by school district liaisons, most (74%) students experiencing homelessness across the United States were doubled up with family and/or friends due to the loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason. A small percentage (12%) experienced homelessness in shelters.
According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg State of Housing Instability and Homelessness Report, most (69%) of students experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg were doubled up with family and/or friends and 20% were staying in hotels/motels during the 2017-2018 school year. Similar to the national data depicted in the NCHE report, a small percentage (10%) of students experience homelessness in shelters.
The NCHE report states that homelessness among the subgroup of unaccompanied youth increased 16% from 111,753 in the 2015-2016 school year to 129,370 in the 2017-2018 school year. The definition of unaccompanied youth used in the NCHE report is a “homeless child and youth not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.” There is no age parameter set, although unaccompanied youth are assumed to be older. According to the NCHE report, North Carolina indicated that unaccompanied youth made up more than 10% of the total number of homeless students across the state.
Using data from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Data Snapshot, there were 178 unaccompanied youth (between the age of 18 and 24) actively experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg as of December 31, 2019. This number has almost doubled compared with the total reported in June 2019.
It is important to know and understand how each individual housing or homelessness data point defines the scope of the problem as well as how different data points can be used together to identify solutions.
We must also understand how the policies and resources from different sectors, including housing and education, can be used together to support sustainable, systemic solutions. The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development have been engaged in interagency coordination through the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) to address housing instability and homelessness for over 10 years. This coordination is also critical at the local level. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care has a board comprised of representatives from housing as well as other sectors including education.
The NCHE report outlines suggestions for strengthening coordination across service sectors to help improve housing and educational outcomes for children and youth experiencing homelessness. Additional resources from the USICH are provided below:
- Interagency Data Disclosure: A Tip Sheet on Interagency Collaboration was developed by ED to help state and local education agency homeless education programs and housing and human service agencies better coordinate services.
- Crosswalk of Key Federally Funded Child and Youth Homelessness Contacts makes it easier for stakeholders that serve children and youth experiencing homelessness that receive federal funding to know how to contact each other.
- Coordinated Entry Processes: Building Mutual Engagement Between Schools and Continuums of Care is a brief developed by ED’s National Center for Homeless Education.
- Case Studies: Building School/Housing Partnerships for Families Experiencing Homelessness features communities that are using innovative, collaborative practices to increase housing stability and school attendance of children and youth experiencing homelessness.
Courtney LaCaria coordinates posts on the Building Bridges Blog. Courtney is the Housing & Homelessness Research Coordinator for Mecklenburg County Community Support Services. Courtney’s job is to connect data on housing instability, homelessness and affordable housing with stakeholders in the community so that they can use it to drive policy-making, funding allocation and programmatic change.