by Félix Pérez
While the new school year began only a month ago, Beth McCullough already sees this year shaping up to be the busiest in her 14 years as a homeless student liaison in Michigan.
“I’m seeing more students, and they’re staying homeless longer,” said McCullough. “It’s much more precarious. There are no beds in the shelters, so mothers are moving in with abusive boyfriends and kids are couch-hopping — a couple of nights here, a couple of nights there.”
Take Action ›
Don’t miss out on the kind of education, legislative and political news you can only get with EdVotes. Click here ›
The surge in the number of homeless students and the frayed, patchwork quilt of public and private relief agencies and groups McCullough described are all too common.
According to recently released data from the U.S. Department of Education, 1,258,182 students enrolled in public schools across the country were homeless in 2012-13. Of those, 75,940 were unaccompanied youths living on their own; 200,950 had disabilities. The total number of homeless students rose 8 percent from the previous school year and by nearly 500,000 since the 2007-08 school year, when there were 795,054 homeless students.
The 10 states with the highest number of homeless students were:
- California, 259,656
- New York, 131,600
- Texas, 101,088
- Florida, 66,956
- Illinois, 50,520
- Michigan, 38,636
- Georgia, 36,934
- Kentucky, 34,012
- Arizona, 30,934
- Washington, 30,609
“The trends mirror what is going on economically,” said Diana Bowman, director of the National Center for Homeless Education. The primary contributing factors are the Great Recession and its record number of home foreclosures, personal bankruptcies and cratering middle class job market.
Homelessness “impacts students’ physical and mental health, and high school students in many cases are more predisposed to drop out,” said Bowman. “Some students will change schools three, four, sometimes five times in a school year. They move school to school, district to district.”
Studies have found:
- Children experiencing homelessness are more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities.
- Homeless students transfer schools more often, are more likely to miss school, and have lower standardized test scores.
- Homelessness is the highest risk factor in determining if a student leaves school before graduation; homeless students are 87 percent more likely than their peers to leave school.
- Forty to 60 percent of unaccompanied homeless youth were abused physically in their homes, and 20 to 40 percent were abused sexually.
McCullough, who works with homeless student liaisons in 24 school districts in two counties, Monroe and Lenawee, said finding services for unaccompanied youth is especially challenging. “I call in chits, I beg. I call pastors I’ve known for years and plead with them.”
Honored by the White House in 2012 as a Champion of Change for her work against youth homelessness, McCullough said there were 1,386 homeless students last school year in the two counties she serves; 252 of those were unaccompanied youth. “Really, these are all our kids that are being left behind,” said McCullough. But in the next breath she mentioned that one of the unaccompanied youths this year, a high school senior, has a 4.7 GPA and has applied to Harvard.